Link update – 29/02/08

Because my del.icio.us links are very disordered and idiosyncratic, I don’t want to automate a daily update into this blog. I mark some links with a tag that feeds into the homepage, but in these giddy times of RSS readers they may go under the radar.

Therefore, this is the first in what is anticipated to be a weekly summary of stuff that has caught my attention. Until I think of better titles, links will come under 2 headings – blog related and random – neither of which will have a consistent interpretation.

Blog related:

Random:

I hope there is something of interest in there to the people reading this

sk

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Online video: Today and tomorrow


Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/blake/

MediaGuardian reports that the BBC iPlayer is seeing significant growth while ITV.com has been left “trailing”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for ITV, nor the other commercial broadcasters. In this situation, a smaller piece of a bigger pie is better than a large piece of a small pie. With new and emerging technology, the major battle is for it to gain traction and acceptance among the mainstream. Fortunately for ITV et al, not only does the BBC have the muscle (and the inclination) to do this, but its unique status means that there will only be limited opportunity for advertising revenues. Once the technology embeds, this leaves it the smaller, commercial rivals to battle it out with the Joosts, babelgums and so on for the cash.

Furthermore, there is a rather large Kangaroo looming on the horizon, and it has yet to be finalised how this is to fit in with these different offerings. At the launch it was announced:

BBC iPlayer content will be listed within the new service, while Channel 4’s website will host a catch-up service which will see 4oD “evolve into the new [Kangaroo] service”.

Channel 4 are suitably vague, while there is no mention of how ITV.com, Five Download (notably absent from the launch) and any other eager player will fit in alongside this service.

Interesting, a quote from the article read:

“Right now, however, the big winner is YouTube, which accounts for over a third of online video viewing, according to comScore,” “This suggests that short-form entertainment may be more appealing to internet audiences.”

Can the iPlayer and the Kangaroo buck this trend, or will it be the clips that drive online video usage. For me, that will be decided by future broadband speeds. My online viewing is rarely planned, and so I prefer to stream low quality clips than plan a high-quality download. If only I lived in Japan.

sk

Trust me, I’m a researcher

Everyone knows the aphorism lies, damn lies and statistics. We continue to use and rely on them but do we – and more important, do our audience – trust them?

The government isn’t so sure, and has some stats that suggest that trust is lacking. Leaving aside the contradiction of trusting statistics that indicate a lack of trust in statistics…
– In 2005 ONS reported that only 17% of people believe that official figures are produced without political interference and only 14% say the government uses official figures honestly
– A Eurobarometer report put the UK last of all the 27 EU member states in terms of public trust in official statistics

This is why The Statistics Commission (obviously shortened to Statscom) is being replaced by the UK Statistics Authority (headed up by no less a person than the President of my former college Sir Michael Scholar). The two main issues for this change, which do amount to more than a rebranding, are:
There was no limit to the time the government could sit on, and thus spin, figures
There were no powers to constrain the spin put on figures, or ability to compel the government to report objectively or accurately

It is interesting that the government is worried that a lack of trust is symptomatic of overt spin, for this is a given in the type of research I work in. Paraphrasing an old joke, with 4 researchers you can get 9 opinions. As evidence, note the preening and posturing that accompanies each ratings report – whether it is RAJAR, NRS, ABC or another measurement tool. Each party is able to find a positive message from the results. It is no surprise when competitors offer completely contradictory accounts of the same figures.

Research is regularly commissioned with a hypothesis that the client wishes to prove, and results can be fashioned to suit that hypothesis. Numbers will be open to interpretation and it is difficult to get a truly objective opinion. Unfortunately, exaggeration of data to suit an agenda is not uncommon. Contentious research will provoke arguments from both sides. The more exaggeration gives more scope for sniping, and reduces faith in the findings.

The Market Research Society can control the quality of the research process by bestowing and removing accreditation, but it has no powers of compulsion over how research is reported. And nor should it. An independent commission to verify the reporting of research would be unworkable – for cost, time, size and client confidentiality issues among many others.

However, more effective self-regulation can build trust in data reports. Data will always be open to interpretation, but integrity is vital. What good is the spinning of a good message when the truth is distorted? Ultimately, inaccurate recommendations will only come back to hurt the client.

This brings me on to some of the recommendations laid out in what is presumably the final report by Statscom – Official Statistics: Values and Trust – recommendations that all would be wise to take on board.

1. It would do more for trust if there were greater public engagement by the professionals, regardless of the political ripples that might then create

Absolutely. Opening research to debate can evolve the conversation. Issues can be dissected and probed further. Not everyone will agree but identifying issues of agreement and issues of contention can help clarify the message.

2. Better explanation of the messages contained in official statistics is likely to be one of the most potent ways to ensure they are better used – and thus deliver greater value. Better explanation means widespread and routine dissemination of statistical commentary written in a way that is understandable to a broad readership, with key messages highlighted and the limitations of the statistics considered in the context of their likely use.

Research designs aren’t infallible. Acknowledging the restrictions of the design and the level of statistical confidence in the figures underlines openness. Messages conveyed may then be caveated, but there is less room for suspicion.

3. Users also need to be confident that the statistical products have not been amended (or concealed or delayed) so as to suit a particular policy or argument. These two components – quality and probity – are central to the concept of being trustworthy.

MRS Accreditation should ensure quality within the research process. Without an ombudsman probity is difficult to relate, but openness should help build trust.

4. The key to quality in the statistical output is that the producer must advise the potential user on the merits of the estimates and the potential pitfalls of relying on them.

Definitely. Understandably, research agencies don’t want to damage client relations by picking holes in a hypothesis. Indeed, in a competitive pitch, the drawbacks of the research methodology may be glossed over. But when research is being used to influence business decisions, the client needs to be fully informed of the margins for error in the research.

There will always be agendas and there will always be individual interpretations in research. By opening up debate to both the methodologies and recommendations, we can build on the conversation, and that can build on trust.

sk

The future of reputation

Following on from my previous post regarding personal information stored on the Internet, a new book by Daniel Solove has come to my attention. The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumour and Privacy on the Internet is fully available online to read, and explores how gossip and rumour collide with fact.

The synopsis is:

Daniel Solove, an authority on information privacy law, offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations. Focusing on blogs, Internet communities, cyber mobs, and other current trends, he shows that, ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet may impede opportunities for self-development and freedom. Longstanding notions of privacy need review, the author contends: unless we establish a balance among privacy, free speech, and anonymity, we may discover that the freedom of the Internet makes us less free.

The book is also available for purchase

Via apophenia

Caring and sharing

I’ve just bought a holiday. I don’t go on many holidays, so this is a big deal for me. As it is a holiday for two, this counts as the most expensive thing I have ever bought. I don’t own property, I’ve only ever owned one second-hand car. The only thing that comes close in terms of monetary value is my desktop.

Contrasting the two purchases has driven home the absolute necessity of high quality customer service in high-cost transactions. My computer purchase was riddled with problems – the most notable of which involved me being charged twice and incurring overdraft fees. And while the option to fully customise my purchase was what persuaded me to use that vendor, the lack of a record of what I actually bought was shocking. On the other hand, my holiday purchase went off smoothly (so far). I have an itemised record of my purchase, and the optional extras were both relevant and thoughtful.

While people in a higher income bracket than me may disagree, holidays aren’t cheap and should therefore be seen as a premium product – whether it is via budget airline or not. If I’m buying a £1200 computer, I’m not going to notice if one vendor charges £50 more to contribute to a more effective customer care. It is something one expects, and makes a potential stressful purchase more relaxing. This in turn fosters a strong relationship which can lead to further purchase. For my next holiday (which, at this rate, will be sometime next decade), I know the first place I will look.

This can relate back to how media owners treat small and new advertisers. Few have the budget of a P&G or Unilever, and while these should correctly be given great priority, the infrastructure should be put into place to help every new advertiser go through what will be a daunting procedure. I’m not just thinking of regular courtesy calls, but (optional) step-by-step handholding. So long as rates don’t change drastically, this won’t affect the media owner competitively. Not only do the pennies add up, but as these small businesses hopefully flourish, their spend should rise commensurately.

sk

Hype machine

Gutter twins, Mark Lanegan, Greg Dulli

Photo taken by http://www.flickr.com/photos/evillorelei/

Last night I saw The Gutter Twins play at Koko. Opinion on the evening varied.

 Person A: A long-time fan of Greg Dulli who had listened to the new tracks many times and participated in online chatter in the lead-up the show. Person A went to the gig with very high expectations and was severely disappointed when the performance didn’t translate to the expectations based around past and current form.

 Person B: A huge – some might say obsessive – fan of both acts who travelled a great distance to be at the show and who is highly immersed in the band’s culture. Person B went in with big expectations and had a brilliant time at the concert.

Person C: A casual fan of previous acts but completely unexposed to Gutter Twins material. Person C went in with no expectations and had a pleasant, if unmemorable, evening.

Why was it that Person A went away so disappointed while Person B was so pleased? They both had similar expectations. But while Person A was knowledgeable, perhaps Person B’s immersion meant that their expectations were more accurate. Person C ended up having a more enjoyable time than Person A, entirely due to lower expectations.*

So hype can have a negative impact. Hype may well get consumers to participate, but if the product or service doesn’t live up to it, then their loyalty has been tested. Person B will still listen to The Gutter Twins, but the reverence for the band has dwindled.

By definition, hype is exaggerated and excessive. In the post-Cluetrain world, information asymmetries should be reduced but rationality does not always overpower emotion. Appealing to rationality by imparting accurate information may be safe, but it is also limiting. Tapping into emotion is the key to success but the stakes are high if the product or service doesn’t deliver.

Hype might work as a tactic but it is not an effective strategy unless there really is a product worthy of all the praise lying beneath the exposition. Which possibly explains why the talk of a Snakes On a Plane sequel has dried up.

sk
*Incidentally, I am Person C

What you see is what you get

Seeing this article on the Compete blog (which, incidentally, is often a fascinating read) prompted me to think more widely about our online personas – both real and assumed – and how perpetual they may be.

As social networking as a process (if not the specific sites – yet) becomes more ingrained, we are leaving increasing amounts of personal information scattered around the web. Most of it will be whimsical and incidental, but some of it will be personal. And what happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet. Facebook suicides only go so far when you have archive.org for all your nostalgic needs.

So, for instance, I have been on the Internet for around 10 years. I probably started moving from the application based (MSN) to the web-based (Faceparty/Friends Reunited et al) 5 or 6 years ago. I have closed some online accounts, while others remain open. I honestly have no idea what data can be publicly accessed at the moment. I certainly wouldn’t want people nowadays accessing my angsty musical preferences (Hello, Papa Roach) or film quotes (actually, my film taste has remained remarkably consistent…).

To my mind, online self-marketing is something I might do when I am single but it seems far to involve far too much effort and concentration to allow it to infiltrate all of my online activities. Therefore, I have taken a strategic withdrawal and retreated into my public shell. The people that know me will already know my hobbies and interests – the people that want to get to know me can ask.

Am I normal in this regard? Will privacy and persona concerns reach a tipping point and see the decline of blogs? I suspect that this may be the case among the professionals of this world but – and judging by their Myspace décor – kids will be kids.

sk