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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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The death of (my) blogging

A trolling title, because “the death of x” has become an overused trope. And of course N.E.R.D.

My blog isn’t dead but it is less frequently updated – going from around twice-weekly to fortnightly to now around bi-monthly. I’m not alone, with many of the blogs I bookmark or subscribe to having become far less active. If I’d retained the same energy in blogging as I had several years ago I’d refresh my blogroll. But…

Is Clay Shirky’s utopian vision of cognitive surplus channelled not into consumption but in creation less likely to come true? It depends on definitions – creation is easier than ever. We can automate actions or post photos from our phone. Why expend more effort, when there is much media to be consumed. It is almost perverse not to want to consume media, given the surfeit of options available. I didn’t blog at all in August, because I felt my personal time was better spent catching up with box sets, reading epic fantasy novels, listening to re-formed bands,  playing computer games and getting caught up in the craze of sporting events, among many other media choices. My interests are unique to me, but I found more than enough things to occupy my attention.

Some of the reasons for my blogging less frequently are particular to me – such as an internal-facing job restricting the amount of interesting work-related things I can talk about. But there also seems to be broader trends that has reduced the prominence of blogging:

  • Alternatives: Online participation is getting simpler and quicker – why construct a detailed blog when you can quickly update via Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest
  • Aggregators: RSS never really took off (though I still use Google Reader) and Twitter links can get swallowed by the stream. In short, it is difficult for individual blogs to surface – instead it is far easier to write a column on a widely read website, whether it be Buzzfeed, Huffington Post or a more niche site.
  • Tighter corporate policies: Corporations are now savvier to social media. They will have policies, and encourage employees to channel their energies into official destinations rather than personal ones. I don’t think it is coincidental that most of the blogs I read that remain vibrant are those written by either consultants or business owners.
  • No more novelty: A blog is initially filled with things people have been waiting to say for ages. Eventually, we run out of things to say. And once the novelty wears off, we try less hard to think of something to say.
  • The hive mind: We gravitate towards people who have similar interests or opinions to ourselves. In blogging, that means certain topics can become a flavour of the month, and it can become difficult to add to existing noise regarding a certain topic. I referenced Cognitive Surplus earlier. I’ve never read it. Nor have I read Predictably Irrational, Groundswell, How We Decide, Thinking Fast & Slow etc. I’ve never needed to – I’ve absorbed all of the key points multiple times over from blogs on the subjects.

Blogging won’t die, and this blog won’t die. As this post proves, occasionally there is the need to write something more considered or more verbose than a tweet. But the gaps between these needs arising are becoming longer.

A few years ago I purchased a URL and some storage, with the intention of self-hosting a personal website. I never got around to transferring this blog. Sadly, it appears like I never will…

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/helico/1568566210

The dimensions of influence

I recently discovered that I had made the inaugural version of The Br200 – Brand Republic’s list of the web’s most influential bloggers. Leaving aside the fact that it is a) industry specific and b) English language, it is still an achievement I’m surprised at and proud of. As more blogs get submitted, I’ll inevitably slide down the list to somewhere approximating my Ad Age Power 150 position, and so I’ve taken a screen grab to prove I once reached the giddy heights of 113.

The Brand Republic top 200 influential bloggers

There are a couple of reasons for my surprise.

Firstly, I’ve never considered myself as influential. I’ve always been open with saying that I started this blog primarily to formalise my own thoughts. The feedback I’ve received and connections I’ve made as a result have been very gratifying, but this wasn’t what I set out to achieve.

The second – and more important element – is the nature of influence and what it actually means.

Wiktionary defines it as “the power to affect, control or manipulate something or someone”.

It may be me being semantically pedantic, but I don’t agree with this. Outside of mind control, it isn’t possible. David Armano has his six pillars of influence but these still require receptive agents. And ultimately, people are autonomous. They can choose to be influenced, but I can’t automatically influence them.

As such, influence has to be derived, rather than measured directly. If ten people have been influenced by me, that can be converted to saying that I have influenced ten people. But it cannot be initially assumed that I am an influencer of ten people.

This leads onto the major question within this blog post – what is influence?

It is a tricky area.

One company that has done a lot in this area is Klout. I’ve read various discussions (notably the Bieber furore) where they have been very open in saying it is still a work in progress. I agree. For instance, being labelled a “celebrity” while having a Klout score of 41 seems somewhat contradictory. But can the definitions ever get adequately resolved?

I consider there to be five distinct dimensions of influence, which can be combined to infer an overall influence level.

Of course, I haven’t magicked these up independently. In addition to Klout, my primary influences have been:

Furthermore, I’m positive there are many other sources that I’ve absorbed over the years. I’m also positive that I will continue to be influenced by the many writers far more intelligent than I am.

Obviously, these dimensions come with the caveat that they are working definitions and ripe to be amended, altered, ripped apart, iterated and improved upon.

The five dimensions of influence:

  • Direct reach – how many people have been influenced directly
  • Total reach – given follow-on word of mouth (through social media or otherwise), what is the total reach of your message (“true reach” according to Klout). You could reach ten people who do nothing with the message, or a single person that passes on the message to thousands
  • Identity of influenced – how powerful (and “influential”) are the people receiving your message – is it a chief executive who might tell five equally powerful and affluent people, or someone who might tell twenty people – none of whom find your message relevant
  • Direction of influence – influence is assumed to be positive. This is a fallacy. If a divisive entity endorses something, it could actively turn others away. An additional dimension that can be wrapped into dimension is how aligned the direction is – for instance if I make a recommendation in sector A but it is made in sector B.
  • Outcome – it could be an action (e.g. purchase, viewing), discussion (recommending, promoting, a factual statement) or a thought that is stored in the subconscious

These five dimensions can be combined to infer a level of influence. The big question is how – which factors are more important, and to what extent?

I’ve attempted to display these dimensions graphically to illustrate this difficulty.

Consider these two examples (click to expand):

Dimensions of influence

In the above Example 1, only one person is being influenced. However, that person has a wide reach, is influential themselves and has been strongly positively influenced to take an action, Compare this to example 2.

Dimensions of influence

Here, many more people have been influenced but the pattern is more mixed. Some people have been negatively influenced, while some of those that have been positively influenced haven’t been prompted into an action.

Which example is better? Honestly, I don’t know. And this partially illustrates why the concept of influence is fascinating and frustrating in equal measures.

sk

Promoting quality over quantity

“Findability” (Sidepoint: I’m fascinated by neologisms – my current favourite is “winningest”) regularly crops up in research I conduct, particularly for video services. To put it briefly, it’s crucial.

It appears to me that over the past few months, my blog has become less “findable” – at least on one measure.

This blog hasn’t been as active over the past few months (this will improve from October, when my Diploma and much-needed holiday will be out-of-the-way). As a result of my reduced frequency in posting (and, to be fair, I’ve also spent less time thinking about my posts), I’ve slipped down the AdAge Power 150 rankings a fair bit.

This isn’t a post filled with whining navel-gazing and self-reflection. Please bear with me.

It’s inevitable that a less active blog will drop down the rankings – recency and velocity/momentum are important determinants when considering popularity.

But it did get me thinking about how popularity works.

It is correct that something with high numbers ranks highly (though, arguably, the most popular things tend to be the lowest common denominator consensus choices, rather than things that inspire devotion).

But numbers can be misleading. All readers, viewers or followers are not equal. Anil Dash has made this point very well in terms of Twitter followers.

Reasons for popularity can include

  1. Something is genuinely good – despite my cynicism, the good will out, at least on occasion. I’ve recently started reading (and enjoying) Inspector Insight, while Inception and Arcade Fire provide two cultural examples (note the subjectivity), though Arcade Fire’s willingness to experiment with interactivity helps their PR
  2. Frequency – it’s not a coincidence that the top blogs on the AdAge ranking are updated daily. Volume is a major determinant of popularity – indeed many of the other factors on this list can be considered functions of volume. I believe reduced volume is the reason for my drop in the rankings
  3. Differing motivations behind “link love” – volume of links are a signifier of popularity, but the reasons for linking differ. It could be a genuine desire to share, a reciprocal back-scratching activity, or a ploy to garner the attention of someone. My link updates (which will return later this week) have been guilty of all three, though nowadays it is almost exclusively the former
  4. Intensive distribution/self-promotion – of course, it could be one person linking to themselves across a variety of platforms. Ray Poynter recently started a debate on LinkedIn regarding the multiple linking to blog posts on both that group and several others (there was one particularly egregious offender). The cost of doing this (and the cost of annoying regular visitors) is negligible compared to the benefits. The spam principle.
  5. Gaming visibility – SEO has become something of a dark art, with multiple sources offering tips on improving the volume of traffic. Attracting “Junk” visitors can either be intentional or unintentional. For instance, the total number of visits I get on my blog is heavily affected by tweaks to Google’s algorithm, since by far the most popular post on this blog is my review of a Thinkbox event. Not because of the content, but because of the (presumably copyrighted) picture of the brain that the post contains. “Brain” and derivatives thereof far outstrip other search terms (such as my name)
  6. Gaming views – some tech blogs have taken it upon themselves to auto-refresh, thus grossly distorting the page view count. Similarly, other blogs will spread an article over several pages to inflate numbers
  7. First-mover advantage – Google may not have been the first search engine, and Facebook may not have been the first social network, but it generally helps to get in there early. Robert Scoble has partly cultivated his micro-celebrity around being an early adopter of new services, though he gets supplanted once the macro-celebrities arrive. Frontiersmen and women are able to build up their networks early, and this leads to…
  8. Self-perpetuation – there are power laws where people gravitate towards larger numbers. This Rapleaf study shows the distortion in distribution of Twitter followers – this trend would have been exacerbated by the introduction of “suggested users”. Again, this self-perpetuation can be intentional or unintentional. Initiatives such as SXSW 2011 Panel Picker and Fast Company Influence Project become number chases, where the only goal is to get as many votes as possible, irrespective of their provenance or context. Whereas, a market researcher new to Twitter might gravitate towards Tom H.C. Anderson – there must be a reason he has over 50,000 followers. And while there would have been a good reason for Tom to gain popularity initially, this has been surpassed by the self-perpetuating power law.

These last two factors are particularly concerning. They are completely divorced from the quality of the content, and create barriers.

  • An artificial glass ceiling that makes it hard for others to break through. It is a pyramid structure – something Ben Kay has talked about in relation to advertising agencies.
  • An echo chamber since the community effectively becomes closed off. In an attention economy, time is scarce and popular sources become stickier. I’ve written previously about the perils of balkanisation and echo chambers.

Is there a remedy to this? Can something be done to ensure that the good does break through?

Probably not, since rankings are completely subjective. They depend on relevance and context – two factors that are unique to each individual.

But potential solutions could include

  1. Incorporating popularity per piece of content – rather than overall volume of links or viewers, it could be done on a content by content basis. For instance, Avinash Kaushik only blogs once a fortnight, but his post are of a very high standard and thus I’m sure he has a very high number of links per post
  2. Relying on a curator’s subjectivity – the AdAge Power 150 does include the subjective Todd Points but I have no idea who Todd is, nor what his tastes are. Recommendations are far better when they come from someone trusted
  3. Algorithms – though recommendations can also come from an algorithm. Last.fm looks at taste compatibility between users, while Amazon is able to suggest items based on the patterns of other shoppers. Of course, this requires a centralised body with huge swathes of data to be effective
  4. Self-administered ratings – WordPress has a new feature enabling you to “like” posts, while other blogs allow you to rate on a five point scale – linking these to profiles could provide a framework to produce basic recommendations. The former might be slightly more effective due to the polarisation of opinion when rating online, but it is a challenge to incorporate. It requires a change in behaviour and mindset to be more active in providing feedback. For instance, I’ve never rated a blog and my Google Reader trends say “over the last 30 days you read 3,028 items, clicked 449 items, starred 0 items, shared 0 items, and emailed 0 items”. Perhaps I should start doing so, but again this method is open to gaming.
  5. Awards – I dislike award ceremonies, particularly ones that require payment to enter, since they seem to be more about making money than rewarding success (hence the fight over the Press Gazette awards, but not the magazine itself). Nevertheless, they provide an objective signifier of achievement – witness the recent episode of Mad Men, where Don and Roger talk about how a Clio award would be good for the company profile.

There won’t be a perfect solution, but there must be tools that can enhance the “findability” of relevant information online. Greater diversity in what we read and consider can only enhance the discourse, even if it will require some complex mental calculations regarding what to consume and what not to. Because the attention economy is virtually a zero-sum game – we’ve almost reached our limits and so new consumption sources will replace, rather than complement, existing ones.

sk

NB: Yes, I have committed many of the cardinal sins in artificially inflating popularity within this post. Well spotted.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joost-ijmuiden/4485190116

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Understanding your STP strategy

This isn’t supposed to be a post aping Copyblogger or Hipster Runoff, but it is something that occurred to me while reading up for an assignment. It is something we all have – consciously or unconsciously – in a professional sense.

What is your STP strategy?

In other words, who are you trying to impress and how are you doing it?

This could be in the job market – segmenting the available opportunities (e.g. by industry or function), targeting a preference and positioning skills and personal attributes for maximum (perceived) compatibility.

Or it could be with blogging.

This is a blog that covers professional interests more than personal, so it should follow that there is an STP strategy underlying it.

And to an extent there is. I’d just never thought about it before.

Segmentation is broadly based around one of the following characteristics:

  • Demographic
  • Geographic
  • Psychographic
  • Behavioural

Geographic can be immediately ruled out (pseudo psychological arguments about cognitive landscapes notwithstanding). And despite the occasional self-indulgent navel gazing posting such as this one, I tend not to focus upon particular behaviours – either in the traditional industrial segmentation purchasing sense or in general actions.

There are several blogs I enjoy reading that are based around a particular demographic (normally a particular industry) but I don’t think this is one of them. I may work in research but, frankly, I find a lot of the processes involved in it pretty tedious and I don’t have the inclination to write about them. And I don’t know enough about any other industry  write on it. In an informed way, anyway.

Similarly, the people who commission me/my company to do a project rarely care about the underlying mechanics either. Instead, they care about the outputs – data, conclusions and provocations – and their context.

As do I.

And I think it is in this psychographic element that this blog attempts to hone in on. Ideas – both my own and those of others.

The blogs I read are those that contain thoughts that interest me – they can have a direct bearing on me or be largely irrelevant. This reflects on what I write about. It was the various blogs I read that initially inspired me to have more than a half-hearted effort at blogging, and their influence on me continues.

Just because I target ideas doesn’t mean I achieve them. But I know at least one person learns something from my typing. Me.

Writing helps me connect vaguely disparate thoughts into something approaching coherent. Sometimes, these thoughts are quickly discarded and forgotten about. But occasionally, they spur me on to go and do something tangible.

The positioning of this blog is like most of the other blogs I read – it is my natural voice. It might be verbose and inconsistent, but it is authentic. I’m more of a sponge than an alchemist and so I probably fall between several stools rather than occupying a distinct proposition like some of these:

In fact, those four positions could almost form a matrix, where I’d be somewhere near the centre. It may not be as exciting as being on the edges, but it means I can soak things up from all directions.

This blog doesn’t have a particular point other than questioning whether, in professional circles, you’ve considered how you are positioning yourself.

In a slightly selfish way, the main audience for this blog is me. Or at least people like me. This rather opaque strategy means that topics and readers may fluctuate, and I may never be categorised as a specific “type” of blog.

But that is fine with me. Whether researchers, musicians, chemistry students or social media specialists, I’m read things from a disparate group of folk and I hope my blog offers a suitable reflection of this. Whether this is the first time you have read a post or mine or whether you’ve visited several times, thanks for popping by and thanks for inspiring me.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaumedurgell/740880616/

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A guide to corporate blogging (beta)

We’ve recently set up our Essential Research blog. It’s started well, albeit a little slowly. Go check it out.

The main reason for the slow start is that we are currently crazy busy. However, a second reason is that the majority of us have never blogged before. And as those who have their own blog know, it is a little scary to begin with.

What do I write about? Who will read it? What if it is rubbish?

I’m quite happy with how this blog has evolved. But the number of blogs I’ve had is in double figures (I think), and it has taken me 6 or 7 years to get into a position of (relative) confidence.

So, using a combination of my past experiences and the advice of others that are quite proficient in the space, I’ve created a little guide on blogging.

See below – it is a draft, and particular to research, but I’d be interested to know where it could be improved.

Essential Research blogging guide

Click on the picture for a larger (and readable) version.

Yes, I like mnemonics.

Incidentally, the further reading list is:

All images are taken without credit. Sorry. If one of the images is yours and you’re not cool with my use then let me know and I’ll change it.

sk

Time to think

The pause between this post and my previous was unexpected, but inevitable given the circumstances. My first two weeks at Essential have been fantastic – involvement in several interesting and diverse projects, and a night out that the K-box may still be recovering from.

My arrival coincided with a particularly busy period of debriefs and pitches. In theory, a nice problem to have but priorities need to be set and resources assigned accordingly.

Businesses should be flexible to adapt when these situations arise, but they should be atypical and not the norm (at Essential, it is not the norm). Organisations shouldn’t overstretch themselves. Short-term revenue gains can be quickly counteracted by a lack of focus, quality and staff morale.

Quite rightly, we regularly talk about a work-life balance being crucial to successful and stable careers and businesses. Each person has their own unique balance – whether sixty hours of work a week or four. But I believe a third dimension should be added to the equation.

Thinking time.

We should be talking about a work-thought-life balance. Thought is the commonality between our work and life personas, and time should be scheduled to improve the quality of both.

Everyone needs breaks. Whether it is stepping back to think more strategically, or searching for outside inspiration to crack a problem, we can all identify multiple benefits of pausing for thought. It could be taking a walk, it could be reading a book, it could be taking a bath to wait for that eureka moment, it could be going to a baseball game as Jon Steel did. Our subconscious can continue to work on the issue, while our conscious mind diverts to not only rest but also to absorb new stimuli.

This is important in all industries (Google giving engineers 20% personal time has led to some enormous successes), but it is absolutely crucial in creative and knowledge industries. Even in research, there is rarely an objective truth easily uncovered, and so time needs to be spent formulating the best approach at each stage of the process.

I am now making a more concerted effort to build in thinking time into both work and life spheres. For me, blogging comes under thinking time. I mull over thoughts and then try to formalise them into a coherent message. This post, for instance, is a synthesis of thoughts jotted onto post-it notes over the past week and additional thoughts that emanated as I deciphered a theme.

I could have punctuated the aforementioned gap between blog posts by quickly writing up one of those thoughts scribbled onto a post-it note. But I chose not to. I don’t post for the sake of it. I write to improve my understanding of matters –  an incremental process that is boosted by the thoughts and posts from others whom I read and interact with.

It is a question of quality vs quantity. Unlike Twitter’s temporary ambiance, I view my blog as a permanent (WordPress permitting) record of my output. I aim to create an evolving, but ultimately a coherent and consistent, body of connected thoughts, ideas and statements – both my own and those of others I intersect with.

I hope my blog achieves this – I don’t want to undersell myself, even with something that could be called a hobby. When I visit someone else’s blog for the first time, I read their previous five posts to see if it is something worth subscribing to. It doesn’t matter if those posts were written in the last 5 hours or 5 months; it is the quality I care about.

A sidenote of interest to me is also the journey one undertakes when they discover a new blog. I see two primary routes – search and social.

A high quantity of posts will influence Google juice and deliver visitors from search. But a high quality of posts that people value leads to social recommendations; attracting people through overlapping spheres of influence. Fred Wilson has noted that he is getting more referrals from social media than Google – I put that down to the consistently high quality of his blog as much as the increasing influence of our online networks.

Furthermore, a recommendation is also more likely to lead to a deeper contact. Search is transactional – I find my answer and move on. Links and retweets are relationship builders. The latter is definitely more valuable.

Anyway, that was quite a large digression. But I’ve finally arrived at the underlying theme linking together my disparate points and post-it notes.

Commoditisation.

By taking our time, by taking a step back, by seeking advice and inspiration, we bring more thought to the process. We ponder, we ruminate, we deliberate, we mull, we muse, we meditate, we even brainstorm and thought-shower.

My contention is that a situation where work-thought-life are in equilibrium will lead to a higher quality of response. Quality is what we should aspire to in order to make ourselves distinctive and unique.

Whether it is research, strategy, marketing, music or blogging, we shouldn’t commoditise our outputs.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dharmasphere/

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New Year; New Resolutions; New Approaches

NB: As a rule, I try and avoid the circular pitfalls of blogging about blogging – fimoculous sums it up nicely. However, this post touches on additional points so,  as it is a new year, I’ll make an exception.

My New Year’s resolutions are usually disappointing normal – drink less, exercise more and so on. For 2009, I have a different (additional) resolution that I hope I can do a better job at sticking with.

My resolution is to read and write less, better.

Reading

In addition to newspapers, magazines, social networks and bookmarked websites, I subscribe to 202 RSS feeds – reading roughly 2,600 items in the last 30 days (which is down from a high of around 3,300 at one point) according to my Google Reader trends.

This is far too many items.

To overcome this ocean of information, I skim; I parse; I bookmark, never to return. Reading lots doesn’t equate to being well read. How much of this information is actually processed?

So, I’m attempting to change my reading habits through:

  • Blocking time out to focus specifically on reading. I have a terrible tendency to refresh pages and habitually check for updates. It is partly this snacking culture that prompted Nicholas Carr to ask if Google is making us stupid. Will deep reading improve my recall?
  • Using the first three paragraphs (or so) as a barometer. If it isn’t grabbing me, I will stop reading rather than skim through the remainder
  • Focusing my reading subjects. There are many great blogs out there and it is important to have diverse influences, but it is more important to prioritise. So, less of the “nice to know” (SEO is interesting, but it is something I am unlikely to ever do) and the “echo chamber” (I’m well aware of the benefits of Twitter) and a greater emphasis on relevance and innovative ideas. Ultimately, I don’t need to know everything; ignorance in certain areas can be beneficial
  • Bookmarking pages  without reading them. They will contribute to my second point of reference after Wikipedia, without eating into my time. I’m already up to nearly 3,000 items – perhaps growth will be exponential
  • Making written notes on the key passages/insights I read. I am slightly sceptical about this – I’m aware that writing notes can assist recall, but I’m not convinced that it will be time-effective in that I will inevitably make more notes that I will ever need

This “less but better” approach to reading will create conscious and unconscious spillovers into my writing.

Writing

This is a personal blog written in my personal time. Unlike other bloggers, this (sadly) isn’t inextricably linked to my day job. By day, I report and analyse facts related to the business. By night I speculate and opinionate on everything and anything.  These aren’t mutually exclusive but it does mean that I cannot really justify blogging during office hours.

I do not yet know if deeper reading will create or consume more of my spare time. I believe the best form of learning is doing, followed by reading and then by writing (for me, writing formalises rather than creates). As such, I may have less time for writing.

When this blog started, I set out to write at least two posts a week, with the majority under 600 words. I’ve kept this up (even if one post a week was a list of links), but occasionally at the expense of quality – pressing publish before I was happy, or writing about something for the sake of it.

Inspired by Merlin Mann‘s words here and here, I will change this. I will only publish something that I think can be of value when I am satisfied – whatever the length. Maths fans may note that more time per post plus less spare time equals fewer postings. But this may not be the case – I could postpone watching my West Wing box set if needs be.

(Link updates should still appear weekly – though changes to my reading habits may affect their content. As to whether they become less esoteric, fewer in frequency or higher in quality, who knows? I am increasingly using Twitter for recommendations and diverting the more random links to my Tumblr account, so these will also impact)

Regarding content, Mark Cahill splits blogs into three categories – news, criticism and opinion. I have toyed with all three and will continue to do so, but envisage an emphasis on opinion.

Blogging is ultimately a selfish practice – we all have our own agenda for blogging and pure altruism will rarely be the sole motivator. My primary motive is enlightenment – formalising my opinions, and then evolving them through interactions with the blogosphere.

As this is a hobby, I’m unconcerned with hits or monetisation. Therefore, I won’t be pandering to Google-friendly topics, but to what I think is most valuable. My top 5 posts (in hits) for 2008 say it all.

For me, value is critical – both to myself and to readers. Of the above, only the 4th and 5th links are popular due to their value – one for signposting news, one for opinion. Going forward, I will be concentrating on posts I think provide value and can influence – whether news, criticism or opinion.

Inevitably, this won’t interest everyone. Some people like the link updates; some are interested in online video; others may be after research stats. That is the beauty of idiosyncrasy – something that is valuable to one person is useless to another.

The future and beyond

Until WordPress provide custom feeds, my unique view on value will constrain your enjoyment of this blog. And that view will continually evolve as I learn more from interacting and sharing.

Will I ever find a voice and a constant message? I hope not, as that implies stasis. Will I provide value to myself? Certainly. Will I provide value to others? I hope so.

I’m truly grateful to everyone that persevered with this blog in 2008. I hope you will stick around in 2009, but won’t be offended if you don’t.

sk

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bugbunnybambam/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/neil_b/

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Extraordinary, eyecatching titles: How to make your blog stand out

My previous post, notes on Jon Steel’s book The Perfect Pitch, garnered a personal best for syndicated views. Rather than ascribe this to a sudden surge in my popularity, I believe it is due to the eye-catching title. “The Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas & Winning New Business” is intriguing, seemingly useful and appears to successfully stand out from the surrounding noise.

This corresponds with some research that my colleagues in Programme Research recently shared with us. They commissioned some title tests on potential shows, using theory rooted in neuro-linguistic programming to inform their naming.

With 90% of the population now with multi-channel TV, more people than ever are using their Electronic Programming Guide. It is then of increasing importance than a programme is able to stand out in the schedule.

In many ways, an EPG is like an RSS reader (I know there are programme such as Netvibes and iGoogle but I don’t find them practical to track a three figure number of feeds).

Sky EPG

Google reader

And so, many of the lessons for programme titles also apply to blog posts. These lessons include

  • Certain words are more striking than others. The more descriptive and enticing *and hyperbolic) the better. Disastrous, secret, celebrity and killer all scored well in the title tests
  • As a counterpoint to the first bullet, certain programmes (or blogs) can own certain words, and so these should be avoided. Therefore, if someone read a title with the first word Dragon, they would be more likely to think of Dragon’s Den than the Arthurian adventure you have created. So, if a dozen new programmes all began with the word “Secret”, their effectiveness would diminish
  • People read from left to right and so the first word needs to contain as much impact as possible (this is especially important if there are space restrictions and the title may be truncated)
  • Titles need to be clear – both in their flow and their description. One may think abstract or unusual titles, but if there are no clear connotations then it will wash over the prospective viewer/reader

The title is the thing that markets your creation in its most blandest form – a list of names. For maximum effectiveness, a title needs to be able to traverse from the unconscious to the conscious, where its stickiness can maintain awareness over time. TV programmes can achieve this through marketing,

But for blogs? The marketing is the product itself. Leave interesting and useful comments elsewhere, and this will hopefully drive traffic to your site. If your copy is impactful, then the positive associations can emerge.

sk