Are you going to the right convention?

Message from Bill Gates during Steve Ballmers pre-CES interview

It’s convention time in Vegas and as Bill Gates said during Steve Ballmer’s interview last night, there are two going on at this time and you need make sure you’re going to the right one. The Consumer Electronics Show and the Adult Video Network Expo, in terms of attendees – the largest producers and consumers of porn. A thousand ways to do it and a thousand ways view it. With so much hardware and software in one place it’s hard to know where to look and that’s just the AVN Expo.

With the bite of credit crunch it’s bound to feel it bit different this year. Apparently the porn industry starting to feel the pinch and I’m not talking about a stray hand. CNN report that Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis said yesterday they will petition Congress to allocate $5 billion for a bailout of the adult entertainment industry.


Designing for the Social Web

I wrote a blog post back in March on a excellent panel session at I attended at SXSW 2008 on designing social networking sites, entitled Social Design Strategies. One of the panelists, Joshua Porter, has just published book on the subject: Designing for the Social Web. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s concise, to the point and covers more than just social networking design. For example, there’s some excellent stuff on how to design a good sign-up process and how to respond to customers on service failures. Joshua details a hierachy covering different levels of customer engagement and how to move them up the value chain. All in all brilliant.

iPlayer BAFTA

I was at the BAFTA awards on the BBC table as iPlayer was nominated. Alas I no longer work for the BBC, I was not on the list to collect the award, despite the fact that I invented and pioneered it. When Tony Ageh collected the award he gave the following speech: “iPlayer is the product of many fathers, however there is one person who should be up here but he can’t be because his name isn’t on the list and that is Ben Lavender.” I was touched. Thanks Tony.

Uncle’s cool at skool

My brother just texted me that my nine year old nephew, Will, is boasting about how cool his uncle Ben is for inventing BBC iPlayer. Apparently his friends are well impressed! Who needs a BAFTA!

Original is best

Watched the 2005 big budget remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 classic Assault On Precinct 13. As remakes go, it’s pretty good, a new take on the plot with more back story. However I can’t help but the prefer the low budget original: taut, brutal, with tension that never lets up.

SXSW 2008 Round-Up

I was blown away by SXSW 2008, the conference was incredibly useful, I met some great people and I loved Austin. I’ve written up extensive notes on all the sessions I went to. At the moment my rather basic WordPress template makes navigating it quite difficult, so here’s an index page. I’ve ordered myself WordPress for Dummies, so will be upgrading my blog when I have moment.

Respect! – How to work with clients, editorial teams and users to get the best work produced?

Design is in the details – some basic principles for interaction design

Opening Remarks from Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson– a discussion around the nature of knowlege and learning through social networking

Over 50 and not dead yet – how best to reach older audiences.

Mark Zuckerberg Train-Wreck – Sarah Lacey’s controversial interview

Analytics kills design? –  a debate on the question of whether analytics kills or cultivates great design

Social Design Strategies – Creating experiences that encourage social behavior and public expression in social networking sites.

Jared Spool – Magic and Mental Models – The importance of illusion in user experience design

Kathy Sierra – 20 ways to woo web users.

The Importance of Branding – How brand values are vital to your website.

Master of 500 Sites – Doug McClure’s 5-step model to make better decisions for your start-up in product and marketing.

Community & Loyalty: Gamers to Flamers – Fostering community in social networking sites

True Stories from Social Media Sites – Stories from SlideShare, Style Diary, The Budget Fashionista, Pistachio, Boxes and Arrows, OpMom & Electric Pulp

Casual MMOs – Why massively multiplayer online gaming

Portable Social Networks – How social networking sites can inter-operate

Corporate Blogging – Dell, LinkedIn and My PR Pro discuss the benefits and pitfulls of corporate Blogging

Jane McGonagal – on alternate Reality Gaming


Austin – Chicago – Heathrow. Watched No Country for Old Men – brilliant acting/direction, great for the most part however the last 20 minutes just peter out. It ends feeling grim and unsatisfying. Tried to sleep but couldn’t, closed by eyes and listened to engine noise. Touched down 6:30am, at my desk by 9. Very jetlagged, staggered along until lunch. Made first attempt to leave office thereafter, discovering at the Tube station I’d left my phone. Stumbled back to office for phone and back to Tube. Two stops on down the Tube, realised I’ve forgotten my bag. Back to office again, collect bag and back on Tube again. Try to stay awake until my stop. Paddington. Flowers for Jane. Train to Oxford. Blogging en route. Typing badly, every other key is Backspace. Hope I’m still awake by Oxford. Drifting in an out of consciousness. Just past Didcot, thought we’d only just left! Taxi. No flowers are not legal tender, need to pay with cash. Home. Wonderful to see Jane & Katy, missed them terribly. Katy’s started walking whilst I’ve been away. Dinner. Bath Katy. Sleep. Ahhhhhh.

Texas Chow Down

You can’t go to Texas with trying a Texas Barbeque. In central Austin there’s the Iron Works BBQ, which apart from a framed letter from George W. Bush on the wall, is outstanding. The brisket is out of this world. It melts in your mouth. I couldn’t help myself to two eating platefuls.


If you fancy the real deal in authentic surroundings, then head 25 miles down the road to Driftwood to The Salt Lick. They have a branch in Austin but Driftwood is the place to go. It’s an old ranch, the local Police act as parking attendents (great use of tax dollars). As for the food: all you can eat Beef Brisket, Pork Ribs, Sausage, Chicken, Served with Salt Lick’s Secret Recipe BBQ Sauce, Beans, Potato Salad and Cole Slaw. Deeeeeelicious!


Soulja Jane

Jane McGonogal gave a memorable keynote but more positive reasons than the Zuckerberg/Lacey debacle. She is an alternate reality games (ARG) designer, professor at the Institute of the Future in Palo Alto; an űber-geek with infectious sense of fun and an engaging speaker. She produced A World without Oil, which won this year’s SXSW award for Activism. Her latest creation is The Lost Ring, an ARG for the Beijing Olympics. In sixty minutes she offered a game designers perspective on the future of happiness.


She has a positive view on gaming, quoting GS Elrick (1978), asserting that: “an alternate reality is another way of experiencing existence” not an alternative to life.

Positive Psychology is now big business (link to There’s numerous books on the subject:

Out of it psychologists have created ways of measuring happiness, such as:

  • The quality of life index
  • The happy planet index

A future forecast for 2013:

  • Quality of life becomes the primary metric for measuring success.
  • Communities form different visions of life worth living.
  • Value will be defined as a measurable increase, in real happiness.
  • Happiness is the new capital.

What do we mean by happiness?

  • Having satisfying work to do
  • The experience of being good at something
  • Time spent doing something you like
  • Being part of something bigger

Jane proffers that massively multiplayer online games are part of the happiness engine as they have:

  • Better instructions
  • Better feedback
  • Better community

We are witnessing a global mass exodus towards virtual worlds and game worlds. For many gamers it boils down to quality of life: virtuality is beating reality.

MMOs circa 2008 are like we’ve invented the written world but decided to produce only books. Her vision is to make the natural world more like the virtual world. Some MMOs already do offer that:

  • ChoreWars – parents motivate the children to accomplish real-world tasks which give them points in the virtual world.
  • Zyked – has a similar idea around motivating its users to exercise.
  • Seriosity – Has virtual currency to increase productivity in the office.
  • Citizen Logistics – People can see where you are, treating everyday reality like a game.
  • Trackstick – a personal GPS stick which records where you are in the world
  • SNIF – social network for dogs. Dogs are fitted with a GPS collar which records their location.

Games kill boredom, alienation, anxiety, depression.

Important factors in ARG/MMO game design are:

  1. Mobbability – the ability to collaborate at really large scales.
  2. Ping Quotient – the level of engagement
  3. Influency – the ability to adapt to different individuals
  4. Multi-capitalism – everyone wants a different return. Some want money, other want social capital.
  5. Cooperation Radar – the ability to sense almost intitively would make the best collobarators on a particular task. 
  6. Protovation – rabid motivation. Fail quickly and fail often to learn.
  7. Open authorship – comfort with giving content away.
  8. Signal-noise management – gamers handle so much noise deciding which out of the many available data-points they decide to act on.
  9. Long broading – think big picture
  10. Emergensight – ability to prepare for and handle suprising results and complexity


Important stuff

  1. Soon enough most of us will be in the happiness business.
  2. Games designers have a good head start
  3. Alternate realities signal the desire need & opportunity for us all to redesign reality for real quality of life.

A earlier version of the presentation is available on SlideShare.

Jane Dancing

During her presentation she mentioned she’d learnt the Soulja Boy dance, the audience shouted “Do it! Do it!”. “Ok” she said, “If you wait until the end, I will.”. She didn’t let us down. She popped and jived in time to Souja Boy to rapturous applause. If you want to learn the Soulja Boy dance yourself, check the instructional video below:


Corporate Blogging

At LOVEFiLM we’re planning to launch a corporate blog soon so I found The Future of Corporate Blogs invaluable. The panel consisted of:

How to monitor the blogosphere?
Look in Technorati or Google Blog Search.

How do you measure success?

  • Tonality of feedback – positive of negative?
  • Engagement
  • Analytics
  • Subscriptions to blog
  • Ratio of negative comments to total
  • Sales
  • Conversation
  • Audience surveys
  • Online focus groups

The panel believe logs are now a corporate necessity.

18 months ago 48% of the comments about Dell in the Blogosphere were negative. This led to a broader social media plan. They wanted identify the key issues, have a two way dialogue, with open conversations. The core strategy was simple:

  1. Listening
  2. Analysing
  3. Taking Action

With the full support of Michael Dell they launched the blog Direct2Dell. They use Idea Storm, a combination of a message board and, where the community votes issues up and down; so far they’ve had 600,000 comments. There’s real power in it, a single individual can influence a multi-billion dollar corporation. It’s now been running 18 months and negative comments have gone down to 20%.

LinkedIn decided to start a blog with the aim of maximising use of the service. Up until then they’d been using LinkedIn Answers and Yahoo Groups. Their goals for the blog were:

  1. Educating users – they created product demos and linked to them from blog posts.
  2. Improving customer support – their customer service team had risen from 50
  3. Leading a conversation rather than let community gossip drive it.

It’s now been running for almost a year and working well.

My PR Pro
Their goals were:

  1. Decelerating the time between problem and solution
  2. Engaging with their community

They were working with a well known Marine Park. The park decided to ban juice cartons with straws as they were worried about the straws hurting dolphins. Diabetes sufferers complained as they needed to have a quick sugar rush juice was best. A dialogue was facilitated through a blog, flip-top juice cartons were offered at the entrance to the park the next day.

Using blogs for SEO
If you only use blogs for self serving purposes you will fail. Focus on customers. SEO is good by-product but the wrong reason for starting a blog.

Social media accelerates the time it takes to respond to customer issues. There’s no buffer between you and the customer. When relationships are established, it really improves customer retention. By comparison phone and email are more expensive and less effective for communicating to large customer groups with the same issues. Make sure you plan your corporate blog or it will be a disaster. The message is clear “Get off email now!”

For further information see and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Blogs in Kami Huyse’s blog and her own account of the session.