Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Commercial: Warpaint

As drawn to my attention by It's Nice That, new California noiseniks, with impressive grasp of dynamics and drama. The normally avant-garde-shy Ms Beta found herself nodding along in approval. 'Exquisite Corpse' available on Rough Trade in the UK, as you might have expected.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Decode this

Decode this
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
Eye-poppingly good stuff at the V&A's Decode exhibition, including this. No prizes awarded if you can spot me in the photo.

Eye-popping stat I learnt there: of all the video/film footage on the interweb that features kissing, 50% is female/female, 30% is male/male and 20% is male/female.


26 recommendations

for February are here.

And don't forget, 26:50 started today.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

26:50 and Free The Blog

Just a quick note to say that if traffic is even quieter here than normal over the next few weeks, that'll be because I'll be blogging at my other home, Free The Blog.

And as part of that, this year, I'm also part of the team responsible for 26:50, 26's latest collaboration with International PEN. It starts tomorrow. Do swing by.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An industry is not a business

From pp 169-70 of John Lanchester's Whoops!:

There is a profound anthropological and cultural difference between an industry and a business. An industry is an entity which as its primary purpose makes or does something, and makes money as a byproduct... Money is a byproduct of the business, rather than its fundamental raison d'etre. Who goes to work in the morning thinking that the most important thing they're going to do that day is to maximize shareholder value?... But many of these enterprises are increasingly owned by people who view them not as industries, but as businesses: and the purpose of a business is, purely and simply, to make money... the return on capital is the most important fact, and the human and cultural details involved are just that no more than details.

Leaving aside the implicit category error that he makes between one and many (and the fact that his quasi-Marxian analysis only really emerges at the end of the book, after some proper gumshoe reporting), this broad point is, surely, correct. Why aren't there Masters of Industrial Administration rather than MBAs (and no, I'm not necessarily convinced that this rise of design education in business as done here and here and championed here is the answer.)

John Kay, in his upcoming Obliquity, will be expanding on this.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Commercial: Brand bullshit bingo

I was at a brand training workshop this morning.

Amongst the pearls unrolled before us were:

- "the branded toilet paper arena"

- "the stairway to brand heaven and hell"

- "distinctivity"

- "bang on the zeitgeist"

The latter, at least, has the saving grace of sounding like an album for someone...


Friday, February 19, 2010

Commercial: The decline of English hospitality

I know my loyal American friends will not believe this to be true, but old, lower standards of English hospitality are creeping back into vogue. As evidence, witness this statement posted on the home page of The Enterprise in Chalk Farm, Lahndahn Tahn, which I believe has been frequented in the past by fashionable people loitering under sobriquets like Jude n' Sadie n' Katie n' Uncle Tom Cobbleigh:


To all of our lovely patrons, to make life easier and more fun, when at the bar please do the following:

Be rude, whistle, click your fingers and shout when you want to be served. Don’t forget how blind we are…so wave that money!

Order one drink at a time-then pay separately

Get to the bar and forget what you ordered, then proceed to ask your 10 mates what they want again. We love to stand around and wait whilst you decide…Fosters or Kronenburg?

Complain about the music being too loud…then complain about the music being to low

If we say we don’t sell something, the chances are we are lying to you! So please keep asking for what we don’t sell (Stella please!)

If we can, we will always serve you a cold beer in a warm glass

There is nothing on Earth more attractive than a drunk man…so whip out those o-so-witty chat up lines…us girls love it

The bar staff get paid far too much money, so please do not tip us it is just insulting!

You are right! The head on that pint was far too big! Let me give you an extra pint for free because of our greed

We always like taking your money, but there is nothing better for us than you leaving your money on the bar in a puddle of beer…don’t forget to point at it, just in case we can not see it floating there

If paying on a debit or credit card, when it comes to putting your pin number in, ignore us and finish that conversation with the stranger next to you…or better go for a little walk. Its fun for us to find you

I’m sorry you were correct! That was a £20 note not a £10 note!

Please tell us when we close... I’m sure you deserve that last drink after time…why do we want to go home when we can serve you until you collapse!

Thank you for coming and we cannot wait to see all of your happy faces again soon

The Enterprise

And apparently, they make money. Figure, go, etc.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Linkorama for 18.02.10

Apologies, for this is to be a humungous one, as the bishop said to the actress:

- Betaworks, a New York based 'behaviorist' start-up looks v cool

- Michael Wolff sinuously defines the key internet theories and predictions you need to be spouting this year

- Broadstuff reminds us that the median ages of people using all this social media malarkey is olllllllllddd

- The Beeb has new online visual guidelines, thanks in part to Neville Brody

- Secret London has a website now, after a crazy weekend and some less-crazy economics

- OMG! BingcrazyFlickrsexymaps!

- W+K launch their own content channel

And and and: The LRB diary in which Will Self walks his dog across Clapham Common, while listening to 'In Our Time', and together they find a dildo. No, I'm not making this up.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Valentine's weekend

... in a parallel universe:

St Valentine's conquest


Commercial: Club sinister

More signs that the recession is by no means over. London’s clubland, one of the boom sectors of the past few years, appears to have realised that memberships are one of the first things to get trimmed in a downturn. Which means in turn hanging on to those members that make them money... and letting go the ones that don’t, however pretty an adornment they might be.

So then we can’t be too surprised that this is the approach that One Alfred Place is taking. What we can be surprised about, however, is the manner in which they’re doing so.

Apparently the club is concerned to stop it being used as a serviced office. Of course, the fact that the management’s other business is mainly concerned with running serviced offices is of passing consideration.

Fair enough. However, would you even imply that fact in communications to those members you’d like to give the chop too? Apparently so. Below an email to a member about to be shoved outside the golden rope:

I am contacting you alongside other members who have shown a rather high frequency of club visits during their time with us.

One Alfred Place is a business 'club' but we feel that some members are treating it more like a serviced office and unfortunately our business model simply cannot support this level of usage.

It is with regret that we are unable to renew your membership at this time but as the renewal date is so close, we are more than happy to offer a further fortnight in order to allow you time to find somewhere more suitable for your needs.

Except that, this particular member had already decided not to renew anyway:

I had already discussed with [name], that I will not be renewing my membership on the 20th of February for a variety of reasons. I had expressed a wish to put my membership renewal 'on hold' and possibly renew in a few months when my needs become more defined. [name] readily agreed to this.

In that respect your email was completely unnecessary given that I had already chosen not to renew.

I have barely been in the club since the start of the year, so I'm not sure that you have your usage statistics up to date.

I am already a member of a more suitable club.

Oh well. Still, you’d expect the new management to be emollient about this, and maybe wishing to downplay the glee with which they’re axing members. Wouldn't you?

The Independent last Sunday reported otherwise:

She's [Sharon Brittan] wasting no time in making changes to the business, including axing club members she doesn't rate. "I think the club is a fantastic concept but the delivery needed some amendments," explains the bouncy Brittan when I call. "But you've got to be brave and bold, luv. And you've got to make sure that if they are not the right people then they aren't there."

Quite. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll mention in causal conversation with a national newspaper journalist that your time is up. From today’s Independent:

You'll recall that chief executive Rob Shreeve has been moved upstairs by investors, and his replacement, Sharon Brittan, is axing club members whom she suspects are using the club as a serviced office.

So, might the eviction list include my old friend and OAP member Steve Tappin, the headhunter-turned-executive-coach that Boots boss Andy Hornby is considering hiring?
"Absolutely," confirms Brittan. "He's on the list." Ta-ta to Tappin, then.

If anyone else can name a business that has such a cavalier disregard for its (one assumes, still-) paying customers’ privacy, I’d love to hear about it.

And perhaps we’d all better remember Groucho’s dictum.


Love human rights, love sharing

This Valentine's day, as well as snogging the face off your beloved, why not give someone else a thought for a moment, and support Liberty's Common Values campaign to remind us that the Human Rights Act isn't just a charter for murderers, rapists, etc, but y'know, everyone.

And while you're there, and contemplating sharing it with your social networks, marvel at the number of sites and services that you can share it at or with. Hence the illustration above.

Talk about proof of the Darwinian effect of network economics. How can even the barest of minimum of these make money?

So the other thing to do today; why not share your social love with one of these lesser sites. They might thank you for it.

Or might not be around to do so. Bonne chance!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Commercial: Why Google will *never* get social

So. Google Buzz.

Appears to be a bit of a damp squib.

Privacy problems. Email overload. Etc.

Another social media technology fail. After Wave.

Now, one fail in this space might count as carelessness.

Two begins to look like they don't get it.

(And no, the shared items function on Reader doesn't count. A highly anecdotal survey has shown that the only two people I know who use it actually live together. So that isn't a permissable case study.)

I have a theory as to why Google just can't successfully operate in this space.

It's not about people calling them out on making decisions against their ethics (though that might be part of it.)

It's not about them trying to play catch-up too quickly with people like Facebook.

It's about the fact that most of the people at Google are too clever to design social software tools.

What's the main reason why Buzz and Wave won't work?

They're too complicated to use.

Oh, sure they're easy to use if you're a software engineer or other genius working for Google.

But that's not everyone, is it?

I'm pretty sure Goog's social engineers just keep chucking more and more stuff in, all the while saying, 'That's cool! Somebody will want to play with that!'

And when it gets round to user testing, and they see people not being able to get their heads rounds where they should start, what function they should use first, I'll wager that behind the one-way mirror they start saying things like, 'Idiot! Can't you see that you just press Alt F4 and tab at the same time!'

(I've seen this happen in other focus groups with product engineers.)

The product engineers are so smart, they refuse to believe that people less smart than them might be using their products.

Trouble is, almost certainly 99.9% of the customer base won't be as smart as the person who invented it.

And so, when faced with the difficult option or the simple option, they'll choose simple.

Because it'll be the one that works for them.

And their friends.

Google just say, 'Well, our customers are smart. They'll figure it out.'

And yes, they are smart.

Smart enough to know when a product hasn't really been designed with them in mind.

And instead, has been designed to show off some engineer's cleverness.

That isn't being social. It's being stupid.

(I say *never*. Clever people have a habit of proving me wrong.)


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where your cups at?

I'd like to, if I may be so bold, call the re-emergence of a new language meme (I'm sure, no doubt, that many of you will tell me that it never really went away.)

I refer to the phrase in my cups. Urban Dictionary provides a definition.

Now, I say this because I've read/heard it in three different works recently:

Frank McGuinness' Greta Garbo Came To Donegal
Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America
Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin.

What's really intriguing here is the fact that these three works are located in such different spaces and times (late 60s Ireland, 19th century America, 1940s Germany) and yet, there the phrase is, meaning exactly the same. (An additional layer of complexity is the fact that I'm reading the Fallada in a translation from the German by Michael Hoffman.)

I haven't been able to turn up much on the etymology of the phrase, so I'd be intrigued if anyone has any clues. I guess that Bill Shakespeare will probably be involved...

And do you, dear reader, still use it? Straight up? Ironically? When sober? Do tell.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Race to (win) the bottom

Those clever innocent chappies have been running a competition to find a new witticism to adorn the bottom of their bottles.

One of our deputy creative directors here at archibald ingall stretton..., John Vinton, has made the final 10.

So it's time to get your voting fingers out.

Go here, then vote for: Upside down, boy you turn me.

Vote early, vote often etc.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

United Social States of America

Via Pete Warden, a lovely way of conceptualising the regional disparities of social networks. Does anyone know if something similar has/is being done for the UK?

(Hat tip: Broadstuff)


Monday, February 08, 2010


My favourite, as you might expect, is the Wes Anderson.

It does, once again, re-affirm the fact that US sports are somehow just more innately suited to be treated cinematically. Witness, not least, NFL Films. Somehow a Premier League Films, just doesn't have the same ring, does it?

(Hat tip: Marginal Revolution)


Some Sunday sermons

So then, bleary eyed after one too many bottles on Saturday night, to Conway Hall, to hear the latest in The School of Life's Sunday Sermons, this time delivered by Charles Leadbeater.

Truth be told, his sermon - more a provocation - was mis-sold. 'On Perspective' the ticket said, but actually it was about aging, and designing systems to make good deaths more common and old age more productive and enjoyable. That he managed to discuss this without any reference to inter-generational wealth transfers was remarkable. (On that particular subject, you'll probably be wanting to read this.)

Still, there were some good lines, jokes and ideas worth recording:

- That to have an fulfilling working life you need to do something interesting, always be learning, and making new relationships so you can learn

- That, at current rates, every decade you life means an extra two years on your lifespan

- by 2070, there'll be over 1m people in the UK over 100 years old

- That we have doubled human lifespan in the space of 200 years

- Half of us will get some sort of dementia

- That after the post WWII economic eras of 'I need' and 'I want', we're now in the age of 'I can'

- Most objects matter only because they are an emblem of a relationship

Tell the credit card company that one next time you phone to query your bill.


Commercial: Liar Love

Liar's League. You know it. Most likely you've been to it. London's premier showcase of all things literary and dramatique.

Well, from tomorrow night, things are going to get a little bit more dramatique.

For the Liars are moving into lurrrve. You are promised, in addition to all the usual imbroligos, a night of book-based blind dating, basically.

All you have to do is email your vital statistics (name, age, sex, orientation, favourite novel) to and you'll get matched them up with a fellow audience member and, hey presto!, a date for the night. (There is no word whether you can get one of the writers on hand to write chat up lines for you.)

The League has a new home, downstairs at The Phoenix off Oxford Circus, and the shenanigans start at 7pm. And all this for £5. Measly, I tell you.