Friday, 29 May 2009

I've been working here too long

My first reaction on seeing this beautiful website...

... Who's it a campaign for?

It's from a Spanish band called Labuat, and I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself even if it is sort of a campaign. Note to self: not everybody is trying to sell something all the time.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Is it art?

The MIT SENSEable City Lab has been visualising phone calls made during Obama's inauguration.

It's very pretty.

But what's it for? I've been wondering this about more and more data visualisations, which are impressive, but don't leave you knowing anything more than that the creator can make beautiful visualisations.

This one is on the margin.

It's beautiful and does communicate a simple message; Britain's skies are very, very busy. If you were just told that, then it would have a lot less impact, so the visualisation is useful as well as beautiful. We use charts for the same reason - either to communicate more information than you can cope with in a written description, or to make a greater impact.

Stunning data visualisation is seductive in our business, but in business it's going to have to work harder than this. An amazing graphic will work to impress a client once, before they realise that they can't acually do anything with it. Good for pitches, but not much else.

The really great business visualisations are ones like these - everything you need to know about a topic on one page. Now that's what we should be aiming for.

(original link)

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Anyone for a pint?

Media types are officially the heaviest drinkers in the country, the Depatment of Health says so.
Teachers are the most likely to moderate their drinking.

As a good analyst who doesn't just present the data, I've come up with two hypotheses...


(a) When you're nursing a hangover, it's more palateable to face a Marketing Director than a class of 12 year olds.


(b) With twenty odd days holiday a year rather than every third month off, us media types really need that drink.

Further research is needed into this important question. If you need me, I'll be in the pub.

Marketing a phenomenon

Anybody know what Spotify has spent on marketing since 2006? Go on, have a guess.
From a standing start in October 2008, it had a a million users by the following March and is still growing fast. You can't launch like that without some serious marketing back-up.

Got a number in your head?

The correct answer is £5000. Yes, that's it.

When your marketing return on investment numbers come back and they're not good, should you really be blaming the creative and claiming that radio isn't the right channel? Or maybe looking hard at the product.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

You'd fail an essay paper for doing this

The web's already been excited about Wolfram Alpha, then ridiculed it and will shortly move on to the Next Big Thing.

As an analyst, I thought it might be a useful resource. If you type in something like 'UK GDP' you certainly get a nice time series of very useful looking data, but there's a major problem.

Take this query for The Times newspaper.

I don't get loads of information back, but the circulation's not a bad start. Where did this number come from? And here's the problem. If you click source information, you're told 'Wolfram Alpha curated data, 2009' and given some extra 'background sources and references', none of which point directly to the circulation figure.

Wolfam Alpha doesn't audit newspaper circulations, and if I'm going to use this number then I have to be able to say where it came from. Wikipedia occasionally comes in for abuse when used as a serious research tool, but at least it lists its sources.

To be honest, I find scraping the web for information and then listing yourself as the primary source of that information, more than a little cheeky. Wikipedia must be fuming.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

And the award for most politically incorrect ad goes to...

Axe Korea, for wrapping a female students' dormitory block with a calendar.
Have to admit, I think this is funny. There's no way you'd get away with it in the UK, but it's funny all the same.

Whatever happened to the sense of humour our Lynx ads used to have?

Monday, 18 May 2009

What datamonkeys will be using in 2010

Some screenshots of Office 2010 have leaked out early.

Leaks like this are normally a strictly geeks only affair (which is why I read the sorts of websites they get leaked on,) but when it's Office and we all spend half our working lives using it, I think the screenshots are worth a peek.

I've also been looking at web design this week and what makes a site look good. The biggest thing that stands out about good design is minimalism. If something's on a page, then does it need to be? If it needs to be, then could it be simpler? It's an approach that Microsoft could learn from.

Yes, Office 2010 has still got the menu ribbon.

This doesn't just fail the minimalism test, it goes to the pub instead of revising, sleeps through its alarm clock and then misses the test altogether. It's huge! And isn't any easier to use for being huge.

OK, so I'm at the technical end of Excel users, but 2007 (and now 2010) look like the menu was designed by Playmobil. It might be easier for your first five minutes with the software, but after that it's just really, really annoying. Traditional menus are far from perfect, but they're better than the ribbon.

Any chance of Microsoft biting the bullet and admitting they've got this one very, very wrong? Answers on a postcard.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

What's on your mind?

Ask Wordle.

This blog's very nearly six months old, so I thought it might be fun to find out what I've prattling on about since Christmas.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Sorry, I'm still not convinced

The London Evening Standard's new 'Sorry' campaign has generated a lot of column inches and even more blog comment, but a couple of days post relaunch I thought I'd wade into the debate anyway.

I initially liked the campaign. Wasn't sure it would work, but liked it on a personal level because it could have been written just for me. The negativity, sensationalism and anti Ken Livingstone crusade that the Standard had been on had really turned me off the paper, so I resolved to buy a copy and see what had changed. Then they gave away Monday's edition for free, so it didn't even cost 50p to find out!

First impressions... well it's not negative in this first edition anyway. Would I pay 50p for it? No. Not when my commute is 20 minutes and a free London Paper will do (just) for 15.

Inside, it feels quite like the Guardian in terms of layout and suffers from the same problem that I have with the Guardian. It's not clear what to read first. If a page has got four stories on it and they're all the same size, where do you start? There's nothing to draw the eye.

Towards the middle, there's heavier comment pieces and for me, there's another problem here. Significant effort has gone into these, but at 7pm after a day at work, people are tired. You're going to need a long commute home before these start to look attractive. It's not that long articles are bad in themselves - if they kill 10 minutes then they're great - but the material needs to be light enough to not take too much effort, otherwise I'd be reading a book.

End result - I moved from the front of the paper to the back without reading very much. On a very early judgement, the Standard has gone from sensationalist, to inoffensive and a bit bland. I put it down after 10 minutes and picked up a London Paper lying on the seat, then spent as long reading that as I had the Standard. Not good.

I'll be interested to see what happens and would really like the poster campaign to work. The one off free edition was an expensive mistake for me though - people will change reading habits slowly even if they liked the free edition, so why throw your money away? Expecting instant success from a promotion is doomed to failure.

Finally, an observation from Charing Cross station last night at about 10.00pm. Late edition copies were being sold hard for 10p by hawkers in the obligatory branded t-shirts and they had loads left. Response from the chap in front of me to the line 'but it's only 10p'?

'I still don't want one. And they were free last night'.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Why TED presentations are great

Everyone loves the presentations from TED. I don't think there's another single source, that leads so often to the question from senior management, 'couldn't we build/do something a bit like this?' (Of course! I'll just knock it up over the rest of the week and have it ready for Monday...)

Here's part of the reason why they're so good. Ever seen a guide for speakers that looks like this? With thanks to Presentation Zen.

1. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick.
2. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before.
3. Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion.
4. Thou Shalt Tell a Story.
5. Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy.
6. Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
7. Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desperate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
8. Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
9. Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
10. Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The next big thing cat

A fantastic summary of internet hype from somebody over at
(Not always the most respectable site in the world - if you browse around and are offended, don't say you weren't warned.)

I'm not sure if I've just come across the Next Big Thing, but this site sort of reminds me of Facebook when I first came across it. Mainly because their friend search says that nobody I know uses it. Facebook started like that when I first scanned my email address book, so I deleted my account and then suddenly the 'join me on Facebook!' emails started arriving.

No current users as evidence of future success. Try selling that one to your bank manager.

I really like the idea of FriendFeed though, because it's not trying to be a host for everything. Let's be honest, Facebook is rubbish at photos and video - Flickr and Vimeo are much better, so what you need is a tool to tell everyone you know when you create anything you'd like to share, wherever it happens to be. This is what opensocial was supposed to do and it's interesting that some ex-Google staff are behind FriendFeed.

Whether FriendFeed is really the Next Big Thing or not, I think its model is the future for the social web. Facebook will eventually die because it's not good at anything except linking you to other people and it's not brilliant at that. What we really need is an engine like the Facebook friends list, that lets you share from anywhere. And it could be FriendFeed.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Friday puzzle - Answered!

You're playing a game show and are offered a choice of three sealed boxes. One contains a cheque and will win you £100,000 and the other two are empty.

You pick a box at random.

Next, the host says he's going to make things more interesting by taking away an empty box. He opens one of the boxes you didn't pick and shows you that it's empty.

Now the host gives you a choice. You can stick with the box you chose originally, or swap to the other box that's still sealed. What should you do? Does it matter?

Answer next week! Don't give it away if you know.
(answer now below)


And the answer:

The first time I heard this puzzle, I swore blind it made no difference whether you switched or not - it does though and you should always switch boxes. Yes, even if as a colleague put it this morning 'you've got a really good feeling about the box you picked in the first place'... This isn't Deal or No Deal* and the colour of Noel Edmonds cardigan doesn't influence which box the prize is in.

Here's why.

When you first pick a box, you've got a 1 in 3 chance of having picked the right one and a 2 in 3 chance of having picked an empty one.

So, if you stick with the box you originally chose, your chances of winning are 1 in 3.

Now, lets assume you switch. If you had picked an empty box to start with and you switch, then you definitely win because the host has removed the other empty box.

There's a 2 in 3 chance that at the start you picked an empty box. So by switching, your chance of winning increases from 1 in 3 (you'd picked the right box first time) to 2 in 3 (you'd picked the wrong box first time and then switched to the right one.)

* Or as I heard a comedian call it once 'Let's Guess What's in the Box'

Sim City

I'm not sure what this is useful for yet, but I like it anyway. The map animates house sales data so you can watch a city grow.

Try it on San Francisco.

Apparently the makers had to work hard to avoid it looking like something out of War Games.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

If online newspapers move to subscription

Then where does that leave

Rupert Murdoch has announced today that he expects News International's online titles to be on a subscription model 'within a year'.

And the Guardian is considering making specialist areas of its website, such as MediaGuardian, subscription based.

Surely that leaves the BBC as the elephant in the room. is already the UK's 10th most visited website and the largest UK news site.

If other online news outlets move to subscription models and the BBC remains free, then it represents a huge market distortion. I'll be expecting fireworks from Murdoch when, as the UK newspaper market begins to charge for content, the BBC's online traffic starts to rise.