Hashtag for a new generation

There was a pivotal moment for the world in August 2014 when, for the greater good of humanity, I introduced a new hashtag. #BEWA (which stood for Blog Every Wednesday in August) improved the lives of, literally, no people. Ever since, I have managed to continually reference it as an internet sensation. If there was a definition of Fake News that could be it (but probably isn’t).

Lazarus-like, #BEWA emerged from cryogenic storage in August 2016. In many ways, last year’s version was even less successful than the original incarnation. Apart from — if it’s even possible — improving the lives of even fewer than zero people, the major structural failure was a lack of Blogging Every Wednesday in August. There was an inquiry. Experts were consulted. A report could have been written but, given that a lack of writing is the core #BEWA problem, it wasn’t. There might have been outrage in a daily newspaper but it’s unlikely. Still, an imaginary voice cried, “won’t you think about the children” and, not only did I know that something had to be done, I knew I was the only person who could do the thing that had to be done.

It’s clear to me now, on this the first day at the beginning of a new era year, that what the internet needs most is more words. There is a distinct lack of anything to read on the internet. If I were really making predictions for the year I’d clearly be calling into question the lack of reading material; I may even go as far as suggesting there’s a shortage. I’m sure there’s a UN sub-committee meeting on the issue right now. Each day I can hear you cry, “what can I read today: give me words”.

And that is where #BEWA Mk2 comes in. Radically re-engineered and improved for a new generation that’s (at least) 5 months more sophisticated than the last.

If you appreciated reading about stars of Australian television shows or wise advice on how to write the perfect technology RFP that allows companies to better work with you; if you care about an Olympic legacy in London or my personal fascination with location data then, oops, you’re in the wrong place. You needed #BEWA.

But BEWA is gone. You need to buy a black tie and throw the rose on the coffin alongside the other mourners (if you can find any). Generation Now care about #SOLS.

Introducing #SOLS

Yes, it could be the SOLutionS to BEWA’s problems but it’s not. It certainly nothing a smart as the School of Life Sciences and it’s only been to Canada on holiday, so fans of the Southern Ontario Library Service shouldn’t get over excited. No, the elders of this parish present “Sermon of the Last Sunday”.

It’s not a goal nor is it a new year’s resolution; it’s bigger. #SOLS is a mission, a calling; a vocation that will be approached with the proper rigour such an undertaking deserves. Yes, on the last Sunday of every month I’ll write something and post it here. Gone is the need for a mid-week rush: Sunday deserves thoughtfulness and dedication.

I trust you’ll set an alarm and join me for this 12 month experiment that’s going to solve everything. Yes, everything*.

See you in 4 weeks.

Footnotes

* If I had employed an army of legal experts to review this entry they would have removed all the good stuff and made me say that nothing will be solved by #SOLS. Use at your own risk. Might cause sunburn. Your home is at risk etc. etc.

Roaring Night

It’s a brilliant experience to see the conservation work of the park up close. If you’re thinking of somewhere for an unusual night, surrounded by the sounds of safari, then Port Lympne comes highly recommended.

The Barbary Lion is extinct in the wild.1 It was the lion that battled with Roman gladiators in the Colosseum and was, at least according to Wikipedia, kept in the menagerie at the Tower of London. But the Atlas Mountains, where they once roamed, is no longer home to any of the animals.

Science, being a mysterious and wonderful thing, is attempting a breeding program that may be able to breed back the lions by finding decedents of the original creatures.

I learnt about Barbary lions on a visit to the Port Lympne Animal Park in Kent where there’s a pair of lions housed near one of the cafes.

The Animal Park is owned by wildlife conservation charity The Aspinall Foundation2 and is known for work to breed rare and endangered species for release into the wild. It’s also home to the world’s largest ‘gorillarium’ – which is a word I can only find in relations to Port Lympne – yet watching gorillas & lions in their cages is a strange experience. I know they’re effectively extinct and therefore the charity’s work is invaluable but these animals are still in an enclosure – large as it may be.  On balance, though, the work has got to be worth it.

I spent a night in one of Port Lympne’s amazing ‘treehouses’3 which feature unforgettable views across the park and across Romney Marsh with, what I think, was the wind farm in the far distance. A complimentary golf buggy allows you access to the park after the day crowds have gone when, at dusk, some of the animals seems to be more awake. It’s possible to get quite close to some animals and watch them in fairly natural habitats. Many of the 600 acres are devoted to the African Experience where, from the safari vehicles, giraffes & black rhinos can be seen wandering the park.

It’s a brilliant experience to see the conservation work of the park up close. If you’re thinking of somewhere for an unusual night, surrounded by the sounds of safari, then Port Lympne comes highly recommended. The accommodation and the staff were superb and, if the thought of the 35 steps to the treehouse and to see the amazing balcony views is a bit daunting, take the golf buggy around the back.

About BEWA 2016

BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again.  The 2016 season featured cycling in the city, fascinating maps, an underground tour of Clapham South Deep-level Shelter. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year).  Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.

Footnotes

1 Barbary Lion, Wikipedia
2 Our Mission, The Aspinal Foundation
3 Your Treehouse, Port Lympne

Hidden London: Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

Each morning as I walk across the Thames, I look to my left and see the sights of St Paul’s Cathedral, the gherkin and Canary Wharf. It’s an amazing – almost iconic – skyline.  Although radically changed with the modern skyscrapers, can you imagine what it must have been like just over 70 years ago when a hundred or more doodlebugs, or the V-1 flying bombs as they were more officially known, could be filling the sky and you didn’t know what their target was.1

Early in the second world war, London had been bombed by the German Luftwaffe – a period known as The Blitz. In spite of early attempts by the government to lock them, Londoners took shelter in many of the city’s Underground stations. In addition, parts of the Underground were used to store national treasures.  Today it’s on an unused branch line, but in the 1940s Aldwych tube station, that I visited once before, protected artefacts from the British Museum from the damage aerial bombing could inflict.

At the height of the bombing, there were demands from the public for the government to provide more shelters. The government turned to the London transport authorities – who had the technical experience building below ground – to build new shelters. And, even though the bombing raids over London had subsided, a total of 8 deep-level shelters we’re built (although 10 had been commissioned). All the new deep shelters were built near existing tube stations: the unrealised dream being to bring them into service as railways post-war.

The shelters were eventually used for their intended purpose in the latter years of the war when, in June 1944, the flying bombs were sent to attack the city.

Last Sunday, as part of London Transport Museum’s Hidden London series,2 I visited the deep-level shelter at Clapham South. The above-ground pillar box can still be seen just around the corner from the existing tube entrance. The shelter is connected to the station but the walls have long-since been sealed forcing visitors to descend (and return later) via a 180-step spiral staircase. The lift, it appears, either not in working order or no longer fit for public use. It’s not easy on the knees but, somehow, not quite as many steps as it sounds.

Clapham South Deep Level ShelterBelow ground is a fascinating place. Wartime pictures of the shelter show the kind of Blitz-spirited Londoners that only seem to appear on old newsreel films.3 In reality, the space built for almost 8,000 people, must have been cramped, crowded, smelly and – probably – very loud. Even with the welcome addition of the canteen-served jam tarts that were not subject to the ration book, I can’t imagine it was the nicest of places. Admittedly, the feeling of 120 feet of earth above you probably went a long way to making it a sanctuary from the horrors above the ground.

DSCN0755-7The tunnels through which you are escorted on the tour are astonishingly clean & tidy – having been most recently used as a secure archive storage facility – but it’s clear from the remaining bunk beds that life would have been cramped. Row, upon row, of the stacked bunk beds could have given almost 8,000 people safety in the Clapham South shelter; your particular bunk marked on the ticket required to access the shelter. Most people would have to bring their belongings down in to the shelter each time they went; exceptions were made for people whose houses had been destroyed by the war. That’s 180 steps with mattresses and other personal items that you wanted to keep with you.

Post-war, the shelters have been used as a hostel for visitors to the great exhibitions of the Festival of Britain in 1951, places for incoming migrants to stay until they found permanent accommodation or as army barracks. In later years, the Clapham South shelters were the aforementioned storage facility while a nearby tunnel, that you don’t visit, is today used to grow salads under LED lighting.4

Walking across the Thames bridges in the August sunshine is a world away from the realities of wartime in the city: the Hidden London deep-level shelter tour a small, but important, reminder of what people went through and a fascinating insight into the ingenuity of the city to protect citizens in more difficult times.

Hidden London

If you’re interested in the Hidden London series of tours, visit the London Transport Museum site to see when the next series is scheduled.

About BEWA 2016

BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction to kick the series off while the first proper entry championed an Olympic legacy.  The third discussed my fascination with location data while what should have been the fourth entry was more of an Oops. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year).  Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.

Footnotes

1 V-1 flying bomb, Wikipedia
2 Hidden London, London Transport Museum
3 Clapham South Deep Level Air-Raid Shelter, Subterranea Britannica
4 Growing Underground: A Visit To Clapham’s Deep Level Farm, Londonist

BEWA Unstuck

In my head I am imagining the thousands who rose early to read a thrilling, pithy and insightful page of words from me over their morning coffee and artisan baked breakfast product.

Oops. My Blog Every Wednesday in August project (#BEWA) came slightly unstuck last week, didn’t it? In my head I am imagining the thousands who rose early to read a thrilling, pithy and insightful page of words from me over their morning coffee and artisan baked breakfast product. Each and every one of their days spent constantly f5-ing (for the PC nerds) to no avail.

The real world caught up with me and events on the first three nights of the week transpired to keep me away from the keyboard. I, of course, could have simply promoted the current BEWA series and pretended that was a worthy entry. It could have featured a handy numbered list something like this:

  1. Blimey, BEWA’s Back!
  2. Handed Down from 2012
  3. Right Place, Right Time

Alternatively, I could have waxed lyrical about the tremendous performance Team GB had put at the Rio Olympics. That would have been topical and might have scored some hits.

I did neither, choosing instead, to have another beer and then by the weekend, it seemed ridiculous to write an almost week-late entry. But the BEWA project has not lapsed. It’s back with a suitably stunning entry that might start with a reference to the London skyline (although perhaps not the one used here).

Stay tuned.

Right Place, Right Time

A little research tells me that reality TV personalities Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer first entered our lives in May 2010 when “Location Location Location” appeared in the Channel Four schedule for the first time.1

Location was the buzzword of 2010. It was the year that Foursquare entered the mainstream, having launched the previous year2 and January 2010 was my first location-based check-in on the service (The Cardinal Cafe inside 80-100 Victoria Street in London, if you’re interested).

Fast-forward six and a half years (I’ll say that again: six years) and last Friday I passed 10,000 check-ins. Check-in number one was the aforementioned cafe outside my office at the time; check-in 1Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 22.34.090,000 was the square outside my current office. That averages just over 4 check-ins for each of the 2380 days between 29 January 2010 and 5 August 2016. And, although it has no real significance, it turns out that both were on Fridays which I take as a sign of something. Although I don’t know what.

A couple of years ago Foursquare separated into two: the Foursquare app removed checkin-ins and the gamification of location data to focus on reviews and recommendations of places you might want to go. Check-ins, mayorships and the other signals of location moved to the Swarm app. I kept checking in.

The company used the game to build up an impressive (maybe the most impressive) database of places on the planet. And, unlike most other directories, this was a database of places and how popular (or trending) they were at any point in time. Critical to the value of the data is that Foursquare can understand how people move between places. Check-out the pulse of London to get an overview of behaviours at a city level.

10048 check-ins mapped by Where Do You Go
10048 check-ins mapped by Where Do You Go

I’m fascinated by this kind of data and what it can tell us about ourselves and our society. Each of my check-ins is sync’d to a calendar so that I could, in theory, look back where I have been. I don’t do that very often. A few years ago when I was spending a lot of time in Melbourne for work I generated a heat-map of the locations I visited just to see where I was spending time. It’s interesting to see the map but it’s not that useful. I’ve just generated another one for Europe3.

The Swarm app itself tells me more than half of my check-ins are at railway stations followed closely by coffee shops, offices, hotels and bars. I wonder how accurately that sums up my life? Is it that useful to me?

Occasionally, people see me opening a phone, selecting the Swarm app and doing the little check-in dance and wonder why I am still playing a game that many people stopped playing when the free beers for Mayors vanished. I think it’s an interesting question and, besides the fact that I do have a calendar showing the places I’ve been to, I’ve been wondering why I do it. I think I do it because the value isn’t only in the chronological history of my travels but how my experiences are useful to informing others.

A day in the centre of London tracked by Google
A day in the centre of London tracked by Google

I find maps so fascinating that, much to my frustration, I’ve spent many hours trying to make Apple Maps accurate for places around my house. For some reason I regularly resubmit more-or-less the same data. I’d love my phone to store a history of every journey I have taken and show them on a map and save them for future historians (a little like Google Maps can do for you). Can you image how amazing it would be to be able to see the paths our ancestors took around towns and cities of the past? The lessons we could learn!

I think Foursquare is the best alternative to those maps and historians will find their data critical for research. But, their database seems to be to be getting more and more accurate. And their ability to suggest interesting places is improving which means it’s also valuable to us today.

When travelling I find Foursquare particularly useful. That great breakfast place in San Fransisco when I was last there? Discovered on Foursquare. Oh, and the one I found the next day that was quiet but had great coffee was added to the database to help the next traveller in the area. This globally shared database of places, tips and tricks is invaluable when on the road and I’m happy to add my recommendations.

In his book Skyfaring, Mark Vanhoenacker has a theory he calls place-lag: a jet-lag like feeling of disconnect when you’re in a place suddenly very different from the last you were in.4 A feeling that is most commonly felt because of long distance air travel when your presence is the only real connection between two locations. Yet Foursquare – and similar – is able to make far off towns feel more familiar because it’s developing the powers to recommend places that we’ll like.

An understanding of place is critical to everything from taxi-hailing apps to controlling your heating (my heating knows when I am moving away from home and suggests I turn the temperature down ). We’re already hooked on GPS navigation systems but they’re improved when they understand not just where something is but how it relates to the world (which is the best entrance to the building from this direction?).

And an understanding of place is increasingly useful to the advertising industry. When I was first using Foursquare I discovered offers around San Fransisco that encouraged me to visit new places. They don’t seem to have Mayoral Specials any more but, nonetheless, if advertising’s ultimate aim is to give to you the right message, via the right medium, at the right time then knowing where you are is vitally important. Knowing where you are is more than just reading coordinates from a GPS system: it’s truly understanding the place you are in.

And these are all reasons I keep checking-in with Swarm. Every little piece of information is helpful to somebody’s future need to understand place. I want to help the world understand that the popular coffee place is inside the station rather than the one outside; that the best entrance when driving to the supermarket is the one on the other road and that people around here are looking for dinner and an offer right now could help somebody decide to where to eat.

So, even if mine is just a very small piece of the location jigsaw it’s all adding to the vast knowledge of places that helps everybody else. Clicking a little check-in helps build a better data set. And it gives me a lovely history of where I have been.

Here’s to the next 10,000.

About BEWA 2016

BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction a couple of weeks ago and the first in this series championed an Olympic legacy.  There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year).  Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.

Footnotes

1 Location, Location, Location: Wikipedia.
2 Foursquare, Crunchbase
3 Foursquare heat map generated by Where Do You Go
4 Skyfaring, Mark Vanhoenacker, p23

Handed Down from 2012

In December each year I post a set of photographs that sum-up the year for me. It started many years ago, before cameras on phones were commonplace, because it struck me how differently pictures taken on a phone represented the year in comparison to those on a traditional camera (which only ever gets taken when you think you’ll need one). If you look back at the pictures from the end of 2012 you’ll see a collection that features the Games of the XXX Olympiad, or London 2012 as I knew it.

Tower Bridge Olympic RingsOn Friday night, I imagine quite late London time, the opening ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad (Rio 2016) will take place at the Maracanã Stadium and Rio de Janeiro will have the honour of hosting the most recent games. As memories of London fade, perhaps only appearing in words like mine – when I summed up the feeling of being there for the opening ceremony rehearsals – the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema will be the newest images of the Olympics, replacing in the mind, perhaps, images of the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge. Time, then, to wonder what we are left with in London.

Back in the bid phase for the London games, Tessa Jowell, then Secretary of State for Culture, and Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London at the time, argued for the games because they believed in the legacy. As Tony Blair notes,

They argued strongly that the Games would have a twofold legacy: the regeneration of the East End of London and helping build sport into the lives of a generation of children.1

I’d argue that the games were worth it for the atmosphere, enthusiasm, national pride and the spectacle at the time, but did we get a legacy? The Guradian recently suggested that we did not, particularly of the sporting kind,

For all the golden memories of July and August 2012, already tinged in sepia, and the continuing debate about the success or otherwise of the other legacy aims it is hard not to conclude that a prize Jowell once called “the greatest in a generation – faster progress towards a healthier nation” is not already close to being squandered.2

But, recognise anybody in the photograph? Perhaps you can’t because the picture is too small and they were moving too fast for me. They are the elite men cyclists in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic passing through Parliament Square on their way to the finish line. It’s part of an annual two-day cycling festival that sees almost 100,000 people cycle around the city on roads cleared of traffic for the day and hundreds more leave the Olympic Park for the Surrey Hills on a route not dissimilar to the one taken during the 2012 games. An event started as a direct result of the popularity of the cycling events in 2012.

All those cyclists in London in the year that Bradley Wiggins, who was an Olympic gold medalist on 2012, won this year’s Tour de France.

I think there’s a legacy right there. Perhaps cycling is the sport to take events at Box Hill & the velodrome forward to inspire a future generation of athletes.

But what about this single example? Thousands of young people who have a new gymnastics club as part of the legacy? Without it, “possibly 5,000 kids wouldn’t have a venue,” said a recent report on ITV News.3 And I could call out the reported 50,000 season tickets West Ham have sold for their new ground in the former Olympic Stadium (apparently the second highest season ticket sale in the Premier League).4

You can see regeneration in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as both a public & event space. This summer there are sporting activities for kids with ‘Fit For Sport’ as well as the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide and the whole aquatics centre for swimming and diving. And if Olympicopolis comes to fruition, London will have a new cultural hub in in the heart of an area regenerated by the London games.5

And don’t forget Adam Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe are on our televisions every week thanks to the legacy of the Paralympic television coverage.

We may not all have taken up more sport as a result of The Games but I think there’s plenty of things we can be proud of that are part of the legacy of London 2012.

Last Sunday, watching both the ammeter and professional riders pass buildings representing our great institutions – Parliament, Westminster Abbey & the Supreme Court – there was also something else happening. A little of the spirit of the games came back with the cheering crowds and even those with limited interest in the sport of cycling searching for somebody who knew who was in the lead. That positive, optimistic and friendly feeling that 2012 brought us returned, even for just a moment in our post-Brexit malaise.

Perhaps, it’s not just the infrastructure or the number of people taking part in sport we should be looking to as the legacy of the games. The games brought out a spirit in almost everybody. We should hold on to that. I believe that would be the greatest legacy of all.

About BEWA 2016

This is the first entry for 2016’s BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August). The introductory post was written in July but you might want to read it anyway. All the BEWA posts will be tagged and you can follow @curns on Twitter to see the hashtag every Wednesday.

Footnotes
1 The Office of Tony Blair: Tony Blair on the legacy of London 2012
2 The Guardian: Olympic legacy failure: inspiring London 2012 message has become a millstone
3 ITV News: 2012 Olympic legacy means gymnastics club is used by thousands of young people every week
4 The Guardian: West Ham sell more than 50,000 season tickets for Olympic Stadium
5 The Guardian: London Olympicopolis culture hub plan gets £141m funding

 

Blimey, BEWA’s Back!

About 2 years ago, after paying another website hosting bill, I came up with a meme that — surprisingly — failed to take the world by storm. I have no idea why. The primary aim was to put some words on this site to justify those fees. Why it wasn’t a trending topic is beyond me.

So, for 2016, I’m bringing back the catchy meme: Blog Every Wednesday in August. Y’all can thank me later.

The whole point of BEWA, for that is the meme’s catchy, social media-friendly & hashtaggable name, is to challenge myself to find a variety of topics to write about in the style of a proper blog rather than a ‘status’ update. I find this part challenging as my brain has been coached to find Internet content longer than a paragraph hard to process.

If you’re still reading at this point, congratulations, you’ve not caught the one-sentence-and-an-emoticon bug so prevalent today [insert relevant happy emoticon].

There are occasions on this blog where I link to interesting pieces elsewhere but with the BEWA project I’m challenging myself to write something longer about the topics I select and not simply quote and link. At one point, the quote and link format was a Blogger staple — and is still done remarkably well by some people — but that’s not the BEWA way.

Topics last season included a post about somebody who was once in an Australian daytime soap opera, a quite serious point about writing technology RFPs, a piece about user design and a frustration with the whole idea that internet advertising is a single ‘thing’ (hint: it isn’t).

If I look at this site’s referral information today (specifically, the Google searches that send visitors my way) I see that little has changed. Ex-Australian soap stars are still at the top of the tree, although there are also a few references to this post on the EU Referendum which was written and posted long before the political mess that followed the result. In the interests of not repeating myself and because I’m not more clued-up than anybody else, I’ll be avoiding both Australian soap actors and European politics in this year’s BEWA (although if I want to generate more traffic perhaps I should take the opposite view).

At this point I have one idea for something to write about that I might use so I have a few days to figure it out. Of course, it could be a lot of nonsense written about nothing. The goal, however, is to get writing again so I hope you’ll indulge me for a month. After all, you’re going to need something while you’re waiting for your train.

And what’s that you say, we’re still in July? Think of this of the summer bonus entry that you wish you hadn’t wasted 2 and a half minutes reading. The whole thing starts this time next week. Set your alarm; although there will likely be a 140 character status update to remind you. I’m preparing a selection of useful hashtags.

Internet Ad Spend will Overtake TV Spend in …. Yawn.

A couple of months ago, the same data from the PWC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook popped-up a couple of times in my Twitter feed. I meant to write about it then but I’ve got around to it now as part of my BEWA plan.

The most re-tweeted factoid stated that, “By 2018, Internet advertising will be poised to overtake TV as the largest advertising segment” and concluded with the line “We are approaching a major tipping point in the advertising universe“.

I’ve made a career out of Internet advertising for more than 17 years. I delivered my first online ad a couple of years earlier as an online companion to a traditional radio spot. When we first started these kinds of comparisons were helpful, not only to reassure us that we’d made the right career choice, but also to convince our bosses that this really was a growing market and they might help us by employing another person to help us figure out what to do.

As an industry we were pleased when online ad-spend eclipsed various forms of print, billboards and even those radio ads I’d spent years working with.  I acknowledge it’s an interesting barometer and makes for some nice graphs for somebody’s next ‘speaking opportunity’.

But, today, comparing the vast opportunities of ‘Internet Advertising’ as a single place of ad-spend while breaking down ‘offline’ spend into it’s component segments doesn’t feel right to me. The IAB (using US-centric data) tells us that, in 2013, 43% of Internet advertising spend was search. Classifieds make-up 6% of the Internet spend. There seems very little point in comparing these numbers to television.

(Much more significant for TV is the kind of spend-shift outlined in a Bloomberg piece about Nike, but that’s for another day).

Surely, it’s connected vs non-connected advertising. The tipping point is coming but it’s not when Internet spend passes TV spend. It’s when spending on connected advertising surpasses non-connected advertising.

Footnotes

I don’t have access to the whole PWC Outlook which may very well put these numbers into a more subtle context that 140 characters can not convey.

My BEWA project resulted in a post about one of the stars of the the Australian television show Neighbours; an entry about writing the perfect technology RFP that allows companies to better work with you; a follow-up post about better user design and this about internet (or connected) advertising figures. Place your bets on if there will be a post next Wednesday,

 

Improved By Design

A couple of months ago I wrote a thing about receipts and the utter pointlessness of P, T and M on that piece of paper. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting piece of writing was it? On the other hand, it appears I’m not alone with this line of thinking. Jack Dorsey, you know one of the chaps that invented Twitter, apparently spoke at the US National Retail Federation’s annual Big Show conference (I suspect they are, close to what I thought was, a receipt industry) about this problem and ways the receipt can be better used as a communication tool to customers. If I was so inclined, I’d claim credit. You know, something along the line of how smart people follow my thinking. But, that’s pretty much a long-shot huh?

A little digging is a fascinating thing. It seems all sorts of pieces of paper could be improved with a small amount of design expertise. I was drawn to the idea of improving the receipt during an extended attempt to claim expenses for a recent trip. That trip included a train, a flight and several taxis. I know taxi paperwork is being improved: Uber and Kabbee do a great job of just emailing you the receipt after the journey – no more scribbled bits of paper that are incomplete. How many times have you had to add information to a taxi receipt yourself so that it was obvious what it journey it was for? They’re clear on where I have been and how much the journey cost. And email makes them easy to retrieve when it’s time to claim those expenses from the people that sent you there.

Peter Smart's Boarding PassAs it turns out there are plenty of other people who think train tickets and plane boarding passes could also be improved. These are a bit more complex as, unlike many taxi receipts they have to be shown while the journey is in progress. To that end they contain lots of little nuggets that mean nothing to you and me but might be crucial to the ticket inspector or air stewardesses’ ability to quickly interpret the ticket. I like Neil Martin’s version of the British Rail ticket (others have had a good go too). But for some innovative thinking, take a look at Peter Smart’s version of the airline boarding pass. If you’ve ever had to look twice at your pass to see which terminal/gate you’re going from then this redesign couple be really helpful.

What I particularly like about both of the examples I’ve shown is the removal of industry speak. Those little airport codes, you know LTN to WAW, are really London Luton to Warsaw Chopin in real, human, understanding. Why not just say that? Unless the product is a business-to-business tool where the people using the system speak the language of the industry it’s never a good idea to confuse with codes and jargon; and even in industry-specific systems I’m not always convinced. In the airport the departure screens don’t show WAW so why should the ticket?

There will be those who think a digital ticket/boarding pass is the solution but that experience needs improving too. My British Airways mobile phone app once showed a partner airline’s flight number for the journey – so the on-board crew were very confused – and I’ve known people who have stood at the front for five minutes or more rebooting a crashed phone so they can show a ticket and take their seat. Paper may be around a while for those things.

Now I just need an original idea for something to redesign.

Further Reading: This post is a follow up to I Don’t Want A Useless Paper Receipt and is also the third in my BEWA posts. The first a rather random post, BEWA: Sound the alarm! All the letters have been taken. Last week’s post was Elsewhere: Writing the perfect RFP.

Elsewhere: Writing the perfect RFP

One of my former colleagues, Louis, has written a piece on LinkedIn about the process some companies go through when putting together a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a major technology purchase.  His essential point, that the process – especially in the larger corporates – doesn’t really lend itself to the best outcome for the ultimate system users, is well made. I’ve been meaning to write something about this process for some time because, so often, it’s a process that prevents a technology seller working closely with the buyer to tailor the response (and, therefore solution) to meet the ultimate business goal. This is done in the name of fairness and transparency which is, of course, a laudable process but if it doesn’t get the best outcome, is it the right one? Although he’s writing in the context of marketing analytics, the words could just as easily be written for the ad tech industry and – probably – for any major modern technology purchasing decision.  Most of today’s tech solutions are complex and can be used in whole (or in part) in many ways as well as being integrated closely with existing systems. What this means, of course, is that there really isn’t a single solution to a customer’s problem from any vendor but a number of approaches that are best discussed and evaluated beyond a series of ‘compliant/not compliant’ statements in a document. Louis suggests some initial stages which are much more discussion than Q&A. I’ve seen – and been involved in – pitches where this works very well.  So, if your putting together any kind of technology RFP then it’s worth reading to make sure you’re giving yourself – and your tech partners – the best chance of success. Here was my small addition to the conversation:

Great advice.  The RFP process in many areas is broken.  I was once part of a team that was begged to complete an RFP for which we were not a good fit by a prospective client: a process that benefitted nobody but a procurement checklist. I really like your alternative suggestions. But, do you really think that your alternative approach requires a lot more time upfront? I don’t think it does but it needs a different kind of relationship with vendors.  In many organisations there’s already a large team putting an RFP together and it’ll go through many iterations before finally being issued so your alternative is just changing the way people evaluate the market: it needn’t take that much more effort. Having said all that, sometimes it’s best to accept that the RFP is the beginning of a process not the end. You may lose an individual RFP but that can mean the start of a business relationship.

Further Reading This piece was written in response to ‘Writing the Perfect RFP‘ by Louis Fernandes and forms the second in my BEWA series. The first was BEWA: Sound the alarm! All the letters have been taken.

BEWA: Sound the alarm! All the letters have been taken.

Sound the alarm! All the letters have been taken. It’s impossible to come up with a new acronym for anything anymore. BEWA, for instance. It’s been used. At least twice. It’s the British Equestrian Writers Association and the Business Educators of Western Australia Inc. It is also a Singaporean fashion brand and a village in Jamtara district of Jharkhand state of India. And I just wanted to start a meme. Not that I really have the ability to do that but, you know, it was an idea.

I hear you cry, “A meme? Are you sure?” And you would be right but indulge me for a moment.

I just paid the hosting fee for curnow.org to the folks a Dreamhost again.  I host my own site on some rented server space there. It’s been with them since 2002 and I can’t remember the company who did it before but I don’t think they are around anymore. The idea was simple: own my own space so I am not at the whim of a dot com business that might not be there tomorrow (this was 2002 and web 1.0’s bubble had well and truly gone bang).  I think I was inspired by Phil Gyford’s website and the idea of collecting all my own web content in one place.

I once wrote that the reason for building a site like this was because, “The ideals of a less censored form of communication, open and available to all, appeals to some deep belief I have in the basics of human community”.1 Of course those are the wild ramblings of an Web 1.0 idealist and you only need looks at the comments on any newspaper website to see how utterly nonsensical I was being.

But, having paid for another year I began to think about why I cough up this money given I don’t really write a great deal here when I could host a simple site for free in many places. Go and check out the beautifully simple curns.me for something along the lines of my original plans for this site.

Then, on Monday, somebody asked me about Google search and websites. I know very little about this. So I did a bit of research and looked at the search terms that got people to curnow.org. So, hello all you Ashley Paske fans (for the kids, he was Matt Robinson in Neighbours sometime in the the last century). There’s a reference to him here and it seems to drive people to look. And the picture isn’t there anymore so I will have to look at that and fix it one day.

So much for the more worthy stuff I wrote about personalised radio and why we should all stop thinking that news is something that can be easily defined.

All this lead me to think that I ought to try and add some new ramblings here just to justify the payment and get people here for some other reason. Which lead to my big idea – BEWA: Blog Every Wednesday in August. Catchy, don’t you think? And so I will try. Don’t hold your breath.

Footnotes

1 Originally written in a post entitled ‘Reasons‘, July 2000