Archive for May, 2008

Tea goes Web 2.0

This is one of the reasons why I love the internet. A while ago, somebody on the A Cup of Tea Solves Everything Facebook group proposed members meet up for afternoon tea in London. Somebody else then proposed a rolling global tea party for those who couldn’t get to London, and indeed didn’t even live in the UK.

So, I blogged about it because it seemed like a rather lovely idea and, frankly, any excuse for a good cuppa. Since then, I seem to have weekly inbound links coming in from a variety of blogs around the world, all highlighting the worldwide tea party.

Now as the date – June 28th – approaches, I’m getting even more hits on my original blog post as people look to find out more information.

What I find rather lovely about all this, is all started from one person’s suggestion on an active Facebook community and now seems to have gone far larger than anybody could have predicted. One person’s already taking about it raise money for the victims of the Burma cyclone.

Even a few years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. And it’s why I love social media and Web 2.0 tools. Nothing was done to promote it, it’s just taken a life of its own.

So, if you’ve come her for info on the global tea party, the Facebook group and the two original threads are the best places to find out more.

And after all that, I need a cup of tea.

We interrupt this blog for a quick broadcast by your local garden centre

My mother would have been so proud. A few weeks ago, I strimmed my back garden (no, that’s not a euphemism). According to housemates, it hadn’t been touched for about a year and, during that time, may have been home to an ecosystem of ultra-tiny people.

But no longer.

After stepping out into the back garden and finding the grass and other miscellaneous green objects coming up to my knees, the strimmer was removed from hibernation and about three-quarters of the garden was culled before I ran out of strimmer wire. I may have committed genocide in the process, I’m not sure. I’m now committed to a summer-long programme of strim ‘n’ mow. Frankly, I’m paying more attention to my back garden (I said quiet at the back) than I am to my gym programme.

Anyway, my mother. Both parents have always been green-fingered – my dad has a significant vegetable plot while my mother can name just about every flower ever discovered. Their garden in Devon is the model of sustainability and colour. To be honest, if there was ever a nuclear apocalypse I’m moving back to the countryside, as I won’t die of starvation.

Well, that and the fact I’d have no real use in a post-nuclear apocalyptic society. “What can you do?” “I’m good with Web 2.0 stuff and I can string a sentence together.” “We have no internet now and sentences are not necessary. You will be eaten so we can survive.”

You can see why I’d move back to Devon. I don’t want to get eaten.

Anyway, my parents. They’ve always tried to gently push me towards horticulture but I’ve so far resisted. It’s taken my back garden turning into the amazon rainforest to get me to this stage.

Once I put the strimmer down (and if you want a way to inwardly reassert your masculinity, I can recommend it) I surveyed my wreckage kingdom work and thought to myself: “If, in the unlikely even I ever earn enough to buy a house in London, I’d like to do a bit of work on this. Make it…. habitable.”

And lo, in front of my eyes, there was a bit more patio (or patio without grass growing out the middle), the whole garden was landscaped and there were beds with flowers that my mother would probably know the name of, and on the other side a few herbs and some lettuces and other vegetables that I don’t know how to grow and would, in all probability, kill before they had a chance to grow.

Actually, I’ve talked about growing a lettuce before so it’s not the strangest idea that’s come out of my head in the past twelve months. That would be the idea of Celebrity Dogs on Ice developed by myself and my old housemate.

But this time… this time, I may actually go through with it. I’d quite like a nice garden, and I’d like to try and be a bit more self-sustaining, even if that’s only growing lettuces for the occasional egg sarnie, and corriander, and maybe a bit of rosemary.

But there’s one small snag to my plan for garden domination. Or rather six snags.

For as long as I’ve been living in this house, we’ve shared it with a fox. As foxes go, it won’t win any competitions, but we didn’t bother it and it didn’t bother us, which suited everybody. But, as with so many of these comfortable domestic arrangements, the issue of sex eventually caused friction.

Yes, the fox got itself a boyfriend or girlfriend and now our garden is home to four fox cubs. They’re four very cute fox cubs, but I’m not entirely over the moon at sharing my garden and the potential lettuce patch with four cute fox cubs and their mum and dad.

Thus far my options, as far as internet research goes, appear to be limited. The three most popular options appear to be shooting it, calling in the local hunt (which I’m sure would go down well in a terraced street) and pissing in your own garden to repel the fox. My neighbours already think I’m strange. I don’t want to give them further ammunition.

So, we’re currently in a stand off. The fox family on one side and me and my nonexistent lettuce patch on the other. At the moment there’s no clear winner.

Gary elsewhere

Soccerlens: the top ten players in the Conference this season.

And no, it’s not an Exeter City player at number one… .

Ma-ma-ma-making your mind up

If, God forbid, Terry Wogan goes good on his threat to quit Eurovision, I’d like to humbly suggest three replacements from the best bits of the blogosphere last night.

First up of the livebloggers was Matthew Hill bringing his own way with words to proceedings:

“I quite like Germany so far, despite the questionable and dubious thieving of Sugababes’ greatest harmonies. Actually I’m now convinced they’re all men? Are they men? My friend’s just chirped up with ‘they put the ‘Man’ in Germany. They have nice facial structures for men. ‘Why did you disappear’? one sings. Well I couldn’t say. Perhaps it’s because you’ve got a bonus sausage.”

Then euroblogger par excellence Nosemonkey does his bit for Anglo-European relations:

“Azerbaijan to win! Brilliantly over the top rubbish, topped off with dancers in g-strings. Result! Give them immediate EU membership to boot! Whether they want it or not!”

And just about the best of the night comes from ultra-music fan John Widdop, who really should be getting paid to do this stuff on a regular basis.

Poland – Given Poland’s excellent pedigree in integrating the culture of Western Europe, you’d expect better than this. This is sung by a bizarre experiment to create the least realistic looking women possible out of wax and clay. The song itself is a power ballad so sweeping it could span oceans, and will probably win. It also sounds oddly like the sort of B side that indie bands with singers with high voices used to peddle in the late nineties. 

Next year I’m tempted to say sod the obligatory Eurovision party and keep glued to the internet, which has outdone Terry (although sadly lacking in the Irish whimsy). And if Robin Hamman’s post is anything to go by, then that might not be such a ridiculous proposition:

“What I participated in last night would be almost totally invisible to most viewers. Most people don’t know how to find and track conversations on twitter, other social networking services or blogs. But being part of an audience community is a powerful experience for participants and a valuable brand building tool for broadcasters and other content producers.”

I would have never even thought to turn to Twitter during the show, but given the amount of Eurovision-related texts sent during the night, it makes perfect sense. It’s an immediate watercooler moment rather than one the next day.

It also shows how social media and traditional media can come together for these sort of events – and again, if, as Robin notes, you’ve got a broadcaster who’s prepared to tie all these elements together, then you’ve got an almost unforgettable user experience. Imagine – the traditional eurovision party, but with added interaction from Tweeters around the globe.

That said, even Web 20 can’t salvage the UK’s attempts to outdo itself on the sheer awfulness scale when it comes to submitting our annual crock of shite. Oh, Morrissey, where art thou when needed?

Exeter bomb blast: the social media afterthought

Now the dust’s settled both around Giraffe restaurant in Exeter and in the general world of breaking news, and yesterday’s events are becoming clearer, it’s interesting to see how the coverage of the event has also settled down both for traditional media and more Web 2.0 sources.

While yesterday the best sources for breaking news were the online Exeter City fans forum Exeweb, and Twitter, today things have settled down somewhat. The thread on Exeweb has slowed and hasn’t been updated in a while, while Tweets on the issue have been restricted to those from traditional media accounts like ITN and the Guardian [1].

Likewise, Technorati and del.icio.us have sporadic entries, but nothing traditional media hasn’t already told me.

[A quick aside here – partly to blow my own trumpet, but partly because it fits in well here – POLIS director Charlie Beckett followed up his very nice comment with a blog post praising what I wrote yesterday, which is as unexpected as it is flattering (and humbling). But where did Charlie find my piece? Via his colleague on del.icio.us. QED.]

But where it gets really interesting is Digg. If you search upcoming stories for Exeter then the majority of articles ‘Dugg’ are from traditional sources: the BBC, the Telegraph, etc. [2].

Now, I’ll admit this has only been a cursory glance and any research I’ve done hasn’t been as thorough as yesterday but there’s still a few strands of hypothesis we can draw from this.

The main point being, when you have a breaking news story, traditional media is a lot slower than online sources and social media tool and, in many cases, less reliable. This also suggests that people are moving towards these tools rather than more traditional sources when they want to find out more information.

However, once the story moves beyond it’s initial ‘breaking’ stage (usually 24 hours, or an overnight gap), traditional media reasserts itself. The posters on Exeweb or Twitterers are likely to have the time or access to compete with media outlets, so at this stage the fastest, most reliable sources online will revert to the familiar brand names. They have the lines to the police, they eyewitnesses, and the politicians and now can be seen to be across the story.

The big loser in all this now is not social media, which can happily exist outside of the mainstream media and isn’t solely news-orientated, but the Express and Echo, Exeter’s local paper.

Yes, the Echo have continued to add updates to their site, but I still can’t read today’s coverage, which is maddening – the message to buy the paper for full information has been on the site since they posted a brief summary of their lead story, and they’re already telling us to buy Saturday’s paper for the update. Which would be great if I still lived in Devon, but I don’t.

Now, the Express and Echo may well have some of the best journalistic coverage on this topic, and today and tomorrow’s papers may well be ground-breaking award-winning stuff, but it’s really too late. Any smart reader, Exonian or otherwise, will have gone to somewhere like Google News, done a search for Exeter and read a lot of the pieces available there, most of which contain not just yesterday’s story but up-to-the-minute articles with today’s events (the Telegraph’s is particularly good). In the meantime, the Echo sits with none of this.

Taking this logically to its conclusion, why would I – the online reader – then need to buy tomorrow’s Express and Echo or visit it’s website when I know there is better information elsewhere? In looking to maximise the paper sales, the Echo could potentially lose out on readers both on and offline.

[By the way, if you want to contact me with any links or aspects of this online case study I may have missed, or anything that may be interesting or relevant to the blog or, for whatever reason, you don’t want to leave a comment, there’s a contact form on the About Me page.]

[1] Assuming you can actually get onto Twitter – it’s having another bit of downtime/crash. Honestly, it’s more tempramental than all of my ex-girlfriends morphed into one.

[2] Anti-fascist campaigners may want to note the amount of Diggs BNP links are getting (and on Technorati as well).

And now for something completely different and a bit saucy

Earlier today my Kiwi colleague asked me to explain just what exactly Brown Sauce is.

“Well, it’s like, er, ketchup, but, er, brown. And it’s a bit tangy. Um… Alex, how would you describe Brown Sauce?”

It took four of us to come up with a good definition – it’s a bit like pureed Branston Pickle, but a little hotter. Then came the next question: What’s Branston Pickle?

“You know, the stuff you get with a standard Ploughman’s.”

“What, it’s in sandwiches?”

“No. Er, yes. But that’s not a Ploughman’s. That’s a bastardized version of a Ploughmans.”

Fortunately I’ve had enough Ploughman’s in my life to know exactly what goes into a good Ploughman’s and this was a bit easier.

Somehow, though, I think the concept of a Ploughman’s baffled my colleague even further. Weird how little things you take for granted can seem so alien and confusing to somebody else.

[The best Ploughman’s I’ve ever had was at the Mason’s Arms, Branscombe. The chutney was amazing. I can thoroughly recommend it if you ever find yourself in that part of Devon – it’s about ten minutes from Sidmouth]

The language of terror

Moving off social media briefly (although I’ll be back onto the topic in the next few posts), yesterday’s ‘bombing’ [1] got me wondering how I would have covered the event if I’d still been in Exeter, specifically in regard to the word “terror”.

I’ve written before how unimpressed I am when the T-word is thrown around, and while there’s more justification for using it in relation to yesterday’s event, there’s still some debate to be had.

Judging by a cursory glance at the newspaper front pages this morning [2] you’d have though Devon’s capital had seen event’s comparable to 7/7 as opposed to some bloke doing a bit of damage to his face [3]. Now, putting on a pedant’s hat for a minute here, a terrorist is somebody who creates terror. Judging by eyewitness accounts from the various sources I checked yesterday, Exeter may have been ill at ease but certainly by no means terrorised. Quite the opposite, in fact, when you’ve got people laughing at the attempt.

Being serious again, terrorism is notoriously difficult to pin down to an exact definition. As Primal Scream sang, “One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist”. There are acts, generally (unfortunately) of mass murder that once they’ve occurred can be classed as terrorism. But what of a lone bomber or gunman? They create terror, are they a terrorist? And more to the point, does a man with a bomb who explodes it in his face without injuring anybody count as a terrorist if nobody is terrorised? A potential terrorist, yes, but that’s getting into an even broader category.

I’ve got an aversion to using words like terrorist and other hyperbole in relation to small-scale local incidents [4] where it’s difficult to qualify exactly what’s being dealt with in the story. These words always feel forced and even lazy.

There are better, more accurate, synonyms that could be used. In this case, bomber, or alleged bomber, fit perfectly and narrow the description down. It also avoids attaching greater kudos and importance to the actions than absolutely necessary, which already strikes a small blow at any would-be terrorist. Being a bomber is a lot less glamorous than a purveyor of terror.

[1] And much as I hate scare quotes, this is one occasion they’re done justice.

[2] Having difficulty finding links to these, especially the Sun.

[3] Ok, I know it could have been a lot more serious but the end result shows this was a woefully laughable attempt to create terror.

[4] And while it can’t have been pleasant initially for those caught up in it, it was just that: a small scale local incident, in the context of things.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com