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May 21st, 2008

Yolks on Microsoft

Yolks on Microsoft

Microsoft, the world’s favorite multi-billion dollar software conglomerate, recently had its CEO, Steve Ballmer, egged at a conference. Literally.

Below is the video which I first caught on Matt Asay’s blog.

It’s hilarious, not only for the eggs awkwardly being thrown, but also for the incoherence of the person throwing them and Steve Ballmer’s priceless reaction. Listen carefully to see if you can decipher the second half of what he says. I sure can’t. (Something about Microsoft stealing money something something Hungarian government something…)

Ballmer actually has a great recovery and finds the humor in the situation, so kudos to him.

While some people might say that Microsoft deserved it for its lack of openness, or applaud the protest for its audacity, I say that it was WEAK and not enough.

It came nowhere near the classic Bill Gates pie-in-the-face from several years ago (gee, Europeans seem to really love Microsoft, they keep giving them free food).

None of the eggs even hit. Much worse, it was a clear step backward from a previous prank. If the software community, and open source in particular, is to foster openness, innovation, and software quality, then WE MUST DO BETTER.

We must think of the next great prank and do it with the community involved. We must join together, and find innovative methods of Microsoft-targeted hijinks, where we can do things like launch 100 pies simultaneously at Bill Gates. Or stealthily leave 1000 banana peels for Steve Ballmer to slip on as he leaves the podium. Or ridiculously-complicated Rube Goldberg devices in Microsoft’s executive offices that somehow leave them tarred and feathered after opening their doors. Stranding them in a giant room with a floor made entirely of Microsoft Surfaces that opens a rickroll video each time it’s touched, anyone?

I’ve seen the code in your intricate applications. I’ve seen your 3D-rendered ultrarealistic machinima. I’ve seen the innovative way you turn 140-character messages to haikus in your Twitter stream. Now, people, is the time to join together for the next great Microsoft prank.

But eggs? Lame.

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May 16th, 2008

Leeds threatened by big pillow fight

Leeds threatened by big pillow fight

The police in Leeds are worried. On Sunday 25 May, it is quite possible that the residents of the Yorkshire city will march out en masse, and battle each other in a large-scale pillow fight.

The battle has been organised through a group set up on social networking site Facebook, and calls for participants to meet at the city’s Hyde Park at 3pm and batter each other silly with pillows. According to The Telegraph the residents of Hyde Park are a little apprehensive about the fight, and alerted the police.

Authorities have contacted the organiser and asked him to cancel the event and the group has disappeared. Unfortunately, a number of splinter groups have emerged to keep the enthusiasm for pillow fighting going.

It’s not difficult to understand why people as so nervous: earlier this month, a similar Facebook-organised ‘flash mob’ event took place in the city. Over 350 people met up in Millennium Square garden for a mass water pistol fight, and essentially destroyed it. The garden was one of Leeds’ most treasured assets. Built in honour of Nelson Mandela, it won a medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2004. The war of the water pistols is believed to have caused thousands of pounds worth of damage, and videos of the event can be seen over Facebook and YouTube.

So will combatants pour onto the streets on 25 May, feather-filled armaments at the ready, or will they instead choose to stay in bed. We’ll find out the week after next…

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May 14th, 2008

Silly season starts here

Silly season starts here

The moment the sun comes out, there are all sorts of silly maths-related stories in the press. You know the kind of thing: some boffin’s worked out the formula for health (a lot of algebra which breaks down into eat well, exercise more) or someone’s calculated how many crisps you’ll eat in your lifetime (and what percentage of those are paprika flavoured).

Well, this one I thought was hilarious (your mileage may vary): According to Leicester University, text messages are a more expensive communications channel than the Hubble space telescope. When you work out the cost per megabyte (assuming 5p per text of 160 characters), it costs you £374.49 per megabyte to send texts. And Nasa gets data from the space telescope for £8.85 per megabyte.

“Hubble is by no means a cheap mission,” says Dr Nigel Bannister, a space scientist at the University of Leicester. “But mobile phone text costs are astronomical.”

Ba-doom-tch!

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May 13th, 2008

Placing money directly in the trash just isn't as rewarding

Placing money directly in the trash just isn't as rewarding

Just in case there aren’t enough ways to waste money online, along comes SomethingStore.com, a service that allows you to pay ten US dollars to get “something”.  That’s it.  There’s not really much more to explain.

The variety of items can be viewed on the site’s SomethingTracker, which lists previously purchased items.  This page shows the assortment of the objects and also indicates that there are in fact people ordering somethings every day.

The best aspect to the site is that it truly is selling it’s randomness as a key feature.  From the FAQ section:

Do you match somethings by gender or age?
Nope. During ordering we only collect your name, mailing address and e-mail information only, so we will not know how old you are or whether you’re male or female. You can be a 25 year-old man and your something maybe a white tank top embroidered with a pink heart. We won’t know so we can’t match.

Now maybe the dollar is just too valuable these days… or the US economy is just too strong… but this site seems ridiculous.  In the early days of eBay many joked about how you could now find anything you wanted online.  But now it seems that only a decade later we have evolved to a point where “anything” is too broad so “something” will have to do.

As of this post, the site claims to have sold 5,867 somethings which means nearly six thousand people have fallen into this trap of a tantalizing shopping mystery.  How sad. And yet sadly, I’m incredibly tempted to order a “something” of my own… it’s just too tempting… this something could be anything

Consider me duped.  I’ll check back in once it arrives and let you know the extent to which my $10 was wasted.

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May 8th, 2008

Word of mouth advertising regulated. Or so I've been told.

Word of mouth advertising regulated. Or so I've been told.

The internet has revolutionised our lives, giving us 24hour access to a dizzying amount of information. Unfortunately, a lot of it is inaccurate, misleading or completely incorrect. As the old adage goes, don’t believe everything you read.

With the exception of this blog, naturally.

There have been a number of reports over the last few years of marketers posing as consumers online, and trying to create a buzz around their products. Sony famously did this, with its “All I want for Christmas is a PSP” campaign. An ‘amateur’ viral video spread across the net, alongside a blog, supposedly written by the friend of one of the characters in the video. Both of these had actually been produced by Sony, and when this was revealed people were… unhappy. Very unhappy.

The best marketers know that they need to be honest and clear with their identity, particularly when promoting their message online. As reported by Advertising Age, at the end of May, those in the UK are not going to have a choice. As of the 26th day of this month, it will be a criminal offence for businesses to seed positive messages online without making it clear who they are. Brand owners can be hit with fines, or even prison sentences if they break this law. Of course, the exact penalties are not yet clear and it will likely take a test case to establish this.

Over in the US, marketers are apparently hoping self-regulation will be enough to make sure brands behave. If not, it is possible the government will have to establish regulations there too.

I have a dream of a Utopian society, where all information online is accurate, or clearly marked as advertising or opinion. It’ll never happen, but even a small step towards this is to be applauded. Nobody likes being duped, which is why the reaction against Sony was so strong, but they do appreciate clarity of purpose. The marketing industry has been around long enough to know how upset people get over blatant dishonesty, and although the internet is still a new and exciting playground for marketers, there should be no reason why these basic lessons should be forgotten.

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May 1st, 2008

London elections 2008: What do the bloggers think?

London elections 2008: What do the bloggers think?

The London Mayoral Elections are just hours away. Soon we’ll see the end of the slagging match that has been taking place between the candidates over the last few months.

The manifestos of the three main candidates, Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone and Brian Paddick, are all pretty similar, coming down to a bendy bus here or a congestion charge reduction there, so it seems likely that this election will be won on personality. With this in mind, it’s interesting to look at Prompt’s new report (PDF) into the online community’s reactions to the mayoral election.

The study examined the online reaction to mayoral candidates across a wide sphere of blogs, podcasts and community generated online media. It appears that bloggers tend to focus on the negative, with Johnson and Livingstone receiving significantly more negative posts than positive. Examining the ratio of positive and negative comments would seem to point to a win for Paddick. 31% of the posts that mentioned Paddick were positive and only 23% were negative. But, as the polls show, Paddick is unlikely to win.

Also interesting is the sheer number of mentions the candidates got, with Boris Johnson storming to the lead with more than three times as many mentions as Paddick. It’s easy to guess why – with his bleached mop of hair, his to-the-point speech, and his bumbling appearances on comedy show Have I Got News For You, Johnson has a reputation of being a shambolic toff.

Johnson also received the least number of positive posts of the three candidates, Even so, many people expect him to win.

Prompt’s report, London Mayoral Elections 2008 – Reactions from the online community, is already generating coverage and discussion in media outlets, including IT Pro.

The report can be downloaded by clicking here (PDF).

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