Recommending others…

I’ve had a bit of a nightmare day. Having overcome some slight hiccups with work, I then ended up having to deal with some problems at home after our annual heating and boiler inspection. If you’ve ever had a day which is constantly throwing up challenges, you might understand why I’d really like to restart the week tomorrow if possible!

Hopefully you can also take comfort from knowing that you’ve managed to deal with at least some of the problems straight away, even if others take a little more time – that’s what’s keeping me motivated this evening.

But when I thought about my failure to get a blog post prepared for today, I realised I’ve been neglecting something. I’m pretty good at sharing content and recommendations via social media, and it’s really second nature to tweet a good blog post or +1 a presentation. Yet I’ve been increasingly neglecting the same role on my blog, and although I can come up with a couple of explanations (I keep forgetting the PressThis bookmarklet, I feel obliged to write lengthy explanations/counterarguments when I share), they’re not very good ones.

So to start correcting that, here’s a recommendation for a keynote speech and accompanying slides from Dave Cushman at CeBit. It’s a lengthy video, but packed full of a lot of useful info and insight.

And I’ve consciously chosen not to embed the slides or video on here – I’ve been doing some thinking about sharing, particularly in light of the rise of ‘frictionless sharing’, and how it’s changing the interlinks of the internet. More on that to come…

Musical serendipity in a digital world….

My former Absolute Radio colleague Adam Bowie recently wrote about serendipity in music and books, and it’s been stuck in my head like a particularly determined earworm for a while. I’ll wait here while you go and read it.

'The Record Shop' courtesy Nicoze on Flickr (CC Licence)

Adam’s experience is that record and book shops provide an element of serendipity missing in online retailers, and this is also a familiar comment on news services, and information via social networks which connect you with friends likely to share your world view.

It’s interesting because of a crossover – Adam is fairly adept and accustomed with technology in various forms, and is certainly a user of most new tools for music and audio-visual entertainment. He’s also a very keen photographer, which itself is an interest rooted in technology and gadgets.

At the same time, I’ve had the type of trainspotter passion for music which was celebrated by the likes of Nick Hornby, with records and cds filling rooms, filed in alphabetical and chronological order. Music magazines ranging from the NME to Guitarist filled my teenage bedroom, the ‘Evening Session’ was required listening, and the hint of a good band appearing on a TV music show would require sitting through the other 27 minutes of tedium in barely-contained excitement. And 10+ years after I’d programme the family video recorder to tape ‘Raw Power in the early hours of the morning, I couldn’t stop myself mentioning to my friends that I’d shared a lift with presenter and then Mojo Editor-in-Chief Phil Alexander.

'Serendipity' courtesy Tojosan on Flickr (CC Licence)

So how does musical serendipity work without record shops?

So how has digital serendipity led to a time when long train journeys to London just to visit Berwick Street record shops (and possibly get served by Martin Belam years before we ever met), transform me into someone who didn’t buy any records during 18 months actually working round the corner at a radio station and yet has such a surplus of music to hear that it probably isn’t achieveable in my lifetime?

No Media – websites, blogs, radio, TV, books:

Strangely, despite the huge wealth of niche blogs and websites available, I rarely read them. Mainly because there’s already an overwhelming amount of tech and marketing stuff to read, plus a huge surplus of books recommended by bloggers and friends. The exception is when they appear as a result of a search for someone I’ve heard about but haven’t been able to locate. I do occasionally read and re-read books about artists and genres, and search out records mentioned – the majority of which are at the back of the highly recommended Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick.

Instead, the Related Artist rabbit hole:

I’ve often tweted about the fact I’ve fallen foul of the biggest risk when working from home – falling into the Related Artist rabbit hole on Spotify. Although it tends to be flawed when dealing with big mainstream acts, the old rule of six degrees tends to mean you can soon start finding songs and artists you haven’t encountered, or hadn’t yet listed to. The Spotify inventory is still a bit patchy, particularly when you get into more obscure and niche genres, but I’ve had some pleasant discoveries, including some slightly esoteric research into Peruvian punk music, or moving from punk through to psychobilly and punk/country crossovers.

And when Spotify fails, there’s the backup of Last.fm, which I’ve long held to be the musical Wikipedia, more than any type of online radio service. There’s a far wider range of the genres I tend to end up exploring, and enough of a sample of most to let me know whether to search further. Even if autoscrobbling can lead to embarrassment when I end up playing songs for my partner or son and they end up recorded forever on my profile because I never remember to delete them. Plus, despite it’s abject failure as a social network, Myspace is still pretty useful for finding a huge number of bands.

New services:

I occasionally use Blip.fm, which provides extreme randomness in the manner of a crowdsourced electronic John Peel. I’ve occasionally get some mileage from Soundcloud. But it’s actually Mixcloud, which for me might as well be renamed ‘HeavySoulBrutha radio‘.

Digital + People:

Like most people, I’ve got at least a few friends who are heavily into their music (@mattcharge happens to be an excellent DJ for example, and @pjeedai may be the whitest expert on obscure British hiphop before you stray into Tim Westwood territory). Only recently I discovered a very professional and respectable journalist I’ve known for years happens to have an obsession with Scandinavian Death Metal, whilst one chat with a marketing agency descended into an hour of the merits of hair metal.

And all of these people distributed geographically and professionally are able to share their recommendations with me regardless of whether they can be bothered to send me a C90 tape recorded from the radio, or want to risk their prized blue label Stax 45s in the mail.

But the funniest thing has been impromptu sound-offs. Recent Jodanma meetings were disrupted by my suggestion of an official Jodanma entrepreneurial soundtrack (available here on Spotify – add your own suggestions), and two days in client offices have involved ‘name that movie theme’ and ‘cheesiest rock’ competitions. Everyone in each situation was able to pull up their streaming service of choice, their digital music collection, or a quick Youtube video and jump in.

The prospect of DRM was long feared as ending the ability to share music. Despite the fact that some artists chose to allow their music to be distributed via Creative Commons, the other result was an ‘iPod sharing/swapping’ trend in playgrounds around the world.

'Mother & Daughter Flashmobsters' courtesy drewleavy on Flickr (CC Licence)

And retailers?:

I’ve occasionally had recommendations from particular record shop experts, or spotted something interesting when browsing, but I’m not sure the actual amount of discoveries has been much different to seeing the various related items on any ecommerce site. Adam’s right that the personal recommendations are based on previous purchases, so aren’t going to recommend something from an unconnected genre, but those tend to come from the sources mentioned above.

Considering I’ve had record shop assistants express disbelief at my seemingly random selection of CDs – “No, none of them are presents, and yes, I can enjoy thrash metal, Irish folk music and obscure 70’s funk”, I’m not sure an algorhythm could ever hope to cope.

Which is probably why the serendipity of music in the digital age has to come from the same place it always has – from other people exposing you to their music and sharing it. Whether it was mixtapes and bootleg cassettes with photocopied inlays being swapped around, or a friend’s dad enforcing a course of Pink Floyd indoctrination every time he gave us a lift to school, that method remains the same, but the potential pool of influencers is much enlarged, just as every aspect of our social circle is enlarged.

Footnote:

None of this means that I don’t still enjoy browsing record stores, although my sole purchases these days tend to be particularly obscure vinyl. By the same token, I still have an addition to visiting the likes of Foyles and far more esoteric bookshops, such as one devoted solely to motoring books. But the serendipity effect of a generic mainstream retailer such as HMV or Waterstones has been completely replaced by digital encounters for me, and judging by sales figures and the precarious state of most of them, the end of the mainstream High Street entertainment shop probably isn’t far away.

Social networks helping me shop – a quick example

Social networks are an invaluable part of my life now, and having just amazed myself by leaving work, catching a tube, rushing to a shop, catching another tube and still making my normal train home, I felt like sharing it as an example.

(as a side-note, the train has already been delayed by 15 minutes as it’s apparently ‘lacking a driver’)

A debate on Twitter about a news story which mentioned cycling reminded me I needed to purchase a new bike pump as the Presta valves on my tyres make it almost impossible to inflate with my old hand pump – and a quick Google confirmed that there was a cycle shop at Holborn, which is on my tube route home.

But how did I know which one to buy, which one was the best value, and what to do with it once I got home etc?

Traditional option: Phone store and speak to person with possible vested interest in selling me anything they can.

New option: Send a message to one of my network on Twitter who happens to be a keen cyclist.

The new option has given me hourly updates from someone who recommended the type of pump I needed, the brand and model he uses, and what to do with it to ensure correctly inflated tyres.

And anyone else that has seen our conversation is able to join in – plus it’s archived for anyone else searching on the internet, possibly saving other people time and effort.

Which is probably a long-winded way of saying thanks to @CliveAndrews as reinforcing the fact that I now use Google for researching facts like business contact details and location.

But I use social media for quickly getting opinions from trusted friends on almost every subject. If Clive hadn’t recommended the right product to me, I can guarantee I wouldn’t have made my train, and probably would have struggled with two flat tyres for the next couple of days at least.

And just for the record, I now have a Topeak Joe Blow Sport ‘Track Pump’ which is £5 off at Evans Cycles at the moment.

And it looks like:

image

The comedy payoff for reading this far is that I underestimated the actual size of it slightly, and now have to try and carry a 2-3 foot high pump home on my bicycle!

Is the media having less effect of my purchasing?

You might want to sit down, but I’ve just spent some money on physical entertainment media. Or to put it another way, I bought some books and DVDs for the first time in ages.

I’d actually been looking for a work-related book which doesn’t seem to be available in bookshops, so that will be an online purchase, but in the meantime, I though I’d treat myself.

Interestingly, I’d spent a while choosing the unavailable book, so was at a bit of a loose end, and ended up coming out with three purchases – and as far as I’m consciously aware, I hadn’t seen advertising or media reviews etc of any of them:

Buyology: How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy is Wrong by Martin Lindstrom was bought mainly on the strength of the topic, and the foreword written by Paco Underhill, whose book on Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping I’ve previously read and enjoyed.

Code: Version 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig was purely chosen on the articles I’ve read by him and interviews I’ve watched with him.

And from the non ‘tech geek’ world, I also picked up:
Lukas Moodysson Presents (4 Disc Box Set) [DVD] – I’ve already seen three of the four films, but wanted to watch the fourth, and revisit the first two (Lilya 4-Ever is a well-made film, but is the most relentlessly bleak film I think I’ve ever seen). I’m also using it to improve my Swedish language abilities, and be able to lend ‘Show Me Love’ (the original title is better but far more offensive!) and Tilsammens to the rest of my family – and they all understand DVDs!

I thought I was all done, but there wasn’t any peer recommendation to prove this whole social media thing.

Until I got home.

The first I heard about the Xbox Live only release of Battlefield 1943 was via two friends of mine as we chatted. I hadn’t been online on the Xbox for a while due to the work/commuting/family combination, and as a result, I hadn’t been looking at gaming sites.

And within 10 minutes, I’d paid 1200 Microsoft points (About £10 or so), and downloaded the game.

It’s having a number of server issues at the moment, but the basic game is pretty good, and the online distribution of a ‘full’ game is interesting.

It’s being followed up today by the release via Xbox Live of 1 vs 100, which is an online gaming show with real prizes, which should be interesting.

Peer recommendations and loyalty aren’t new, of course. But generally they’d be prompted for me by either an event (my plumbing has broke, who can fix it?), or by media awareness (this game is coming out, is anyone else buying it?).

It seems as if the weighting has now changed, and the peer/loyalty aspect is what then might result in someone sharing a helpful media review, or just leading me straight to a purchase.

More micro-recommendations from Goodrec

I’ve just signed up for a new site offering micro-recommendations via web and mobile, Goodrec, after picking up on it via Scobleizer (Who has a great video interview with the CEO, Mihar Shah)

It looks like a good service, although as you can see I’ve just started playing with it.

But what’s interesting to me is that 50% of their traffic comes from mobile, and mobile is a big part of their offering, with recommendations around your location, for example.

The reason I’m so interested in the mobile aspect is that it’s the main difference (along with restaurant and nightlife reviews) from Blippr, a micro-recommendation service whose creators I interviewed back in September.

  • Both focus on allowing short form reviews.
  • Both include categories for Entertainment.
  • Both have a pretty simple rating option, with up to 160 characters for the actual review.

But the big difference is that Goodrec appears to have had mobile in mind from the start, especially with location-based services. Blippr, meanwhile, had a user suggest an iPhone app seven months ago on it’s Get Satisfaction page, and a lot of postive feedback from other users, but the staff replies explain that with one developer, the decision was to focus more on the site. Blippr has exposed it’s API in case a third-party wished to create something, but the most recent work has been a host of improvements to the site itself (details are on the Blippr blog)

Choosing between the two is a tough call – from emailing and Tweeting with the guys behind Blippr, I can appreciate what they’re doing immensely – but without having the resources to develop mobile-based recommendations they’ve left themselves widely open. After all, mobile integration is a major adoption attraction of Twitter.

So combine Mobile with location-based recommendations, and I think Goodrec has launched with a sizeable advantage.

It will be interesting to see if Blippr respond, if anyone else joins the space, and in particular, whether Twitter itself has any plans in the area linked to monetising.

(I’m also on Blippr, although not particularly active).

Twitter serendipity

I’m sure there’s a linguiphile somewhere who will complain about my use of serendipity, but I’m willing to risk it to illustrate how microblogging not only gives a valuable return on the time invested – but sometimes incredibly quickly.

Like many other social media/technology writers and addicts, I’m also a bit of a stereotypical geek, with a passion for pop culture, comics and videogames. Unlike some though, I’m lucky that one of our London offices is right next door to Forbidden Planet, although it’s not good for my bank balance.

Commuting to work in London last week, I happened to tweet that I was going to try and get through a day of working next door to a comics mecca without spending any money – and within about 2 minutes I was advised to follow @Danacea – marketeer at Forbidden Planet! (The recommendation was via @DigitalMaverick).

Not only has it been great to chat around general geekiness and marketing, but I’ve already had some help tracking down a couple of books I’ve struggled to find – and the store now has a public face I identify with it!

And it’s only one example of getting put in touch with the right person, in a matter of minutes after I posed a question. And although I had an advantage by mainly looking for tech/marketing people, if you look at the sheer number of new people to Twitter every day, it’s becoming easier and easier to find someone for whatever niche you need. I wouldn’t be surprised to find local plumbers etc on there in a matter of weeks and months!

Plus I’m still proudly showing off the brilliantly trashy Karate Kid ‘Sweep the Leg‘ T-shirt I ended up buying when my willpower gave in –

Karate Kid T-ShirtSadly it’s out of stock online for you mere mortals…