From Hollywood to Aylesbury (and UK freelancers)

When I dreamed about entering the movie business, I always assumed it would involve luxurious offices in Los Angeles or London, rather than a suburban semi-detached in Aylesbury. As it happens, I’m helping out the immensely talented Dalang Films, who are now releasing their own projects after working on many of the biggest films of the last decade.

Hollywood Sign

Chatting about their plans and introducing them to a few ideas around licensing, digital distribution and marketing, I couldn’t help thinking about the way business is changing every day in the UK, with more and more freelances, entrepreneurs and small businesses appearing every day.

A recent story on the Atlantic shared some relevant stats from the U.S.

  • In 2005 1/3 of the US workforce participated in the ‘freelance economy’, with data showing that number has increased ever since.
  • 2009 saw the highest level of entrepreneurial activity in the U.S in 14 years.
  • Online freelance job postings rockets in 2010, and companies are increasingly outsourcing various functions, along with increasing support for telecommuting.

I don’t have the equivalent UK figures, but I’d suspect we’re probably a bit behind due to cultural differences, but the same change is definitely happening. And despite the media fascination with ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in London, or even the ‘Silicon Fens’, there’s a huge amount of small business and individual endeavour that’s being missed.

For instance, the 40-50 people in Digital People in Peterborough are almost entirely comprised of small businesses and individial freelancers, with just a handful of exceptions. And I’d bet a similar picture is true of a huge number of geek meet-ups, or business networking events outside of London.

It’s not an easy life, and I wouldn’t romanticise the challenges of choosing between buying food or paying the bills when client invoices get missed and paid late. Or of working late into the night on something because there’s simply no-one else to help. But I do believe that there’s a cultural and business change happening which not only makes freelancing and telecommuting more acceptable, but will also enable it to become easier, with more support from the various necessary institutions.

And if you’ll excuse me, I have some client work to finish before I sit back with a beer and practice my Oscar acceptance speech. I know there’s not one for marketing, so I’ve offered to help out on various odd film jobs to make sure I get included in the nominations!

Geek curry night in Peterborough…

The belated arrangements for the fourth meetup for ‘Digital People in Peterborough‘ have now been announced, and in a change from the pub format, it’s going to be a curry night

I’m still surprised that something I’d mentioned in passing to my good friend @pjeedai and virtual acquintance (at the time) @joffff has turned into a regular meetup which sees 20+ digital people get together for drinks, food and chatting. All from just deciding a time and a place and seeing if people would turn up.

And it’s continuing to grow. We’re getting a reasonable amount of people checking out the site regularly, more and more people are registering and posting in the forum, the Facebook page has got 34 Likes so far, and the Twitter account has 25 followers.

That might be small if you’re used to reading case studies of global brands and millions spent in marketing, but as a group which met for the first time 5 months ago, and which has come together from nothing, I’m pretty amazed. And particularly as it’s revealed how many talented and skilled people are in the area – as a result, it’s led to the founding of digital design and development company Jodanma, of which I’m a co-founder, for example.

With the ease of communication and organisation, if you’ve ever wondered about starting a community around a cause, shared hobby, idea, dream etc, there really is no excuse not to give it a go. Maybe it’ll become massive in terms of size, or value. And maybe it’ll take a bit of time and work. But there’s no excuse for not giving it a try and finding out who else is interested…


Absolute Radio unveils iTunes Tagging for the iPod nano in the UK

If I’m struggling to find time to blog, it’s a fair bet something really interesting is happening at Absolute Radio. So the fact I’m finding it near impossible at the moment hints at a number of cool things about to happen.

Absolute Radio implements iTunes Tagging for the Apple iPod Nano

Absolute Radio implements iTunes Tagging for the Apple iPod Nano

One such thing happened today, as we announced we’re the first radio station in Europe to implement iTunes Tagging on the Apple iPod nano (Aff Link).

It may have been available in the US for a while, but now you can finally listen to the radio (On 105.8FM in London), hear a great song, and tag it for when you next synch your iPod. Rather than spending the next few days, weeks, or months humming something without being able to remember the name of it.

We’ve worked with worked with Unique Interactive, part of UBC Media and Jump2Go to achieve this – and while I say ‘we’, the actual work was being done by the Tech Services guys. And what better excuse for me to put a new iPod on my Christmas List!

Which newspaper mentions Twitter the most? (UK)

Although Ashton Kutcher has people following him on Twitter than the entire UK news industry, in terms of online readership, the UK news industry has pretty good reach, with The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Daily Mail all attracting over 30 million unique users in September 2009.

So I thought it would be interesting to see exactly which ones were mentioning Twitter the most – and to keep it simple and relevant for everyone, I decided to only use their search functionality to work it out:

So which newspapers have mentioned Twitter the most?

Key thoughts from this simple experiment:

  • Most people would probably have put The Guardian top if asked.
  • The fact Twitter search returns and ABCe results are closely linked suggests the effectiveness of site structure and search functionality, rather than Twitter mentions being integral to driving readers! (I’m sure Martin has much more in-depth information on this as part of the team at The Guardian).
  • At least a couple of sites have seriously wonky search functionality, despite being two of many with search powered or ‘enhanced by’ Google.
  • It’s definitely skewed towards the ‘middle-class’ broadsheets regardless of political leaning, which is what most people would expect.
  • There’s a power law in full effect, with two/three sites providing most of the coverage.

Track Twitter followers for UK newspapers

Twitter followers for UK national newspapers have been tracked for a while now by Malcolm Coles over at the Online Journalism Blog.

And there are some really interesting insights emerging – besides the fact that at 1,665,202 followers in total, the entire UK news industry has serious competition from the likes of Ashton Kutcher (3,777,896 followers )and Stephen Fry (794,146 followers).

Take out the @guardiantech account, which contributes 1.2 million followers, and things really don’t look brilliant in terms of scale for most accounts – it might look better if you aggregated all Times accounts, for example, but you’d still be in the low tens of thousands, and you’d still be part of a 400,000 (approx) total.

And although there’s reasonable growth, it’s again all skewed towards the Guardian Tech account, which is benefitting heavily from being included in the Suggested User List for new users.

The question is why news sources – which are proving to be pretty popular judging by their homepage statistics – are so much less attractive on Twitter?

I don’t think it’s the wrong location for finding news and information – in fact the opposite is true.

I do think there are potentially two reasons:

1. Perhaps the strength of major media news sources – which has been written about by many people – is in aggregating and providing context and insight into what’s going on, rather than attempting to ‘beat the crowd’ to the first tweet?

But I suspect it’s more likely to be:

2. If you simply plug in an RSS feed and then bugger off, you’ll never get anywhere.

Is any magazine company leading the way digitally?

Does any magazine company have a clear strategy for their digital business? Viewing it from the outside, there seems even less chance of picking who will be successful in the future.

Dennis Publishing seemed to be leading the way with online mags Monkey, iGizmo and iMotor, but has gone on to buy The First Post and Now it’s buying Kontraband, which has been around for 10 years, and has seen unique users decline from 10 million to 3 million as online video has solidified around the likes of Youtube and the BBC iPlayer.

Integrating video from a Dennis-controlled site into the other properties might make sense – after all, the various outlets guarantee a certain number of views, and there won’t be a need to share revenue with Google/Youtube.

Future Publishing is adding an online album club costing £3 a month for Classic Rock to let people read online reviews and download advance copies of the accompanying albums.

Meanwhile Conde Nast is closing to focus on a new website, Businessweek is up for sale by McGraw-Hill, and my former home at Bauer Media has been pretty quiet on the digital front since relaunching and shuttering (which has now been removed entirely from the internet).

So what seems to be a wise move?

Dennis expanding their portfolio seems logical, especially as they can now experiment to see whether their own revenue from Kontraband makes more sense than the bigger marketing potential of Youtube, and whether they can entice their 3 million unique users with some text to accompany their videos.

Conde Nast aligning their online and offline titles is also a good move – too often companies have tried to build portal sites which incorporate a number of magazines – to hide costs and a lack of content and resource – and have ended up trying to establish new brands whilst confusing audiences.  And there are some really viable alternatives…

What don’t make sense?

I’m not entirely convinced by an online album club – granted the Classic Rock audience are more likely to be familiar with an album club than torrenting MP3s, but is there enough to justify £3 in the face of memberships for the increasingly familiar Spotify and Plus the music labels are making their own moves to become content providers, along with the artist themselves.

Having worked on Ditto, obviously I’m biased about it, but as it was pretty much quiet on the staff/development front, it seems strange to save some minimal server costs.

Oh, and I’m still not tempted by the print UK edition of Wired. Besides the obvious ‘geeks on the internet’ issue, I’d have rather seen a larger U.S. edition which included more UK coverage and content to boost awareness of UK companies, and to go further to justifying the cover price.

Any less confused?

Some reactions to Digital Britain…

I haven’t been able to fully digest the Digital Britain report to be able to dissect it and add anything to the commentary already online, so I thought I’d share the thoughts of those people who I value enough to have in my RSS feed every day:

Digital Britain Scorecard: So how did Lord Carter do? – Paid Content.

What does #digitalbritain mean for journalism – Adam Westbrook.

Digital Britain calls for pirate-free universal broadband – Ars Technica.

Digital Britain: 2015 – First thoughts on radio – Adam Bowie.

(Disclosure – Adam Bowie is a colleague of mine at Absolute Radio, although the views expressed on either of our blogs are our own, and do not necessarily represent the views of our employer. )

I’d also recommend the always erudite and interesting Bill Thompson, – Digital Britain engaging with the internet – but his blog appears to be down at the moment. Luckily he’s also available on the BBC site.

UK newspapers get it wrong again with UK’s oldest Twitter user… – Updated May 18

Update: Techcrunch has followed up the article and revealed that the staging was done as PR by The Geek Squad, and was simply picked up by the newspapers. So rather than creating it badly, they repeated it badly.

A recent story did the rounds of UK papers and news bulletins as The Telegraph and The Sun claimed to have found the UK’s oldest Twitter user.

But as Techcrunch revealed, 104-year-old Ivy Bean happened to send her first ever tweet at the same time as the newspapers were writing their stories about her.

And her first ever tweet?

‘I’m enjoying Twitter for the first time and having my photo taken.’

Which would be one of the two messages she sent which were visible on the photos accompanying the articles.

What’s shocking isn’t that someone thought it was a good idea to ride the Twitter bandwagon with the type of story that fills empty time at the end of a news bulletin.

What’s shocking is that they were inept enough not to bother faking it a bit better – maybe starting the account a day before at least? And not taking a photo of two tweets – the first of which mentions them? Don’t they know tweets are publicly accessible, indexed by Google and archived?

Then again, they’re still running stories about the banality of Twitter written by journalists who normally use the service for a couple of days at most for research, without following or interacting with anyone.

Because obviously searching for the writers, journalists and bloggers who actually understand how the service works is far too much effort.

And when those same articles question the truth behind tweets and retweets around news and events, you might want to point to the fact The Sun managed to get Ivy’s age wrong in it’s headline – her username, IvyBean140 might have been a clue!

Monitor the UK weather via Twitter mash-up

There’s a fantastic Twitter mash-up to capitalise on the UK fascination with weather – even if most of us will only see about an inch of snow at the moment.

#UKsnow Tweets

#UKsnow Tweets

Recommended via @joannejacobs, it works by Twitter users posting a Tweet with the hashtag #uksnow and the appropriate postcode. For example “#uksnow NG9 3/10”

You can see it working by clicking on the image above or visiting the site of the creator, Ben Marsh, but I don’t know how long it will be running for – you could ask him on Twitter at @benmarsh!

TheWayoftheWeb is a top 30 UK Marketing blog!

TheWayoftheWeb has somehow made it’s way up to 27th in the January 2009 rankings of UK Marketing Blog compiled by Spinning Around.

Wheres the podium for 27th place? (Pic by ph-stop on Flickr)

Where's the podium for 27th place? (Pic by ph-stop on Flickr)

The list is compiled by filtering the UK-based blogs from the AdAge Power 150 (Which is now up to 941 blogs in total!). And it means I’ve moved up from #39 back at the start of January, which is nice.

For the record, it’s nice to get a bit of validation and evidence than people get some value out of what I do here – which I didn’t really imagine would happen when I started blogging.

But the main reason I’m pleased to move up rankings, whether it’s Google, Technorati or AdAge is that it may lead to more people stopping by – thus increasing the proportion of people I have the opportunity to connect and converse with.  Because it’s the comments, emails, Tweets and other connections which are the most valuable reward I can ever get from blogging (Adsense isn’t going to make me rich!).

So if you’ve ever linked, commented, emailed, tweeted, bookmarked, shared, phoned, chatted, conversed or promoted TheWayoftheWeb (or me!) in any way, then this is a public Thank You.

Thank You by Darwin Bell on Flickr (CC Licence)

Thank You by Darwin Bell on Flickr (CC Licence)

Next stop, the top 20!