The long, slow Ello

Ello Ello Adders

So, Ello, then.

I'm on there. Lots of people are on there (even if they're not really using it yet). But I'm very far from convinced just yet.

Being wary of Facebook's use of personal data is a positive thing, I'd agree. But that, in of itself, is not necessarily enough to build a new business on. You can't compete if you just do things differently to Facebook, you need to be compellingly better. And right now, Ello - which is, admittedly, in beta - is not compellingly better. It's fun. It's lightweight. I'm not sure the "typewriter" aesthetic would be my choice, but there you are. But it's not better right now.

And there are plenty of alarm bells ringing about how compellingly different it actually can be now it has take venture capital.

I'm convinced that the wheel will turn away from Facebook at some point, but I bet it won't be to something everyone is celebrating as a Facebook killer. No, it'll be to something that does things differently enough that, at first, no-one sees the connection.

Anyway, I've written a deeper analysis of Ello for NEXT Conference - and you can connect with me on Ello, if you'd like…

Bing it on!

I am something of an accidental SEO trainer. It all came about because of a phone call from Sarah Marshall, a little over two years ago - but it has been an unexpected and fascinating voyage. I don't think there's been a single SEO course I've run that I haven't enjoyed, and I've got to meet a great range of journalists from different parts of the industry.

I do love journalist. They're great people.

How did I get here? I've been publishing on the web for over 15 years now, and I've kept up with SEO, because, well, I rather like being read. It's a handy thing, that makes the time committed seem like time well spent. It always surprises me how bad this industry is - structurally - at keeping up with this. A significant chunk of the people who come on the course are there because either they're not being given any SEO support in their jobs, or because the messages they're getting about SEO have no context. Given how crucial search traffic remains - even in this social media age - that's a good decision. What fascinated me is the patterns that emerge from the stories they tell.

Here, then, are the three original SEO sins of the news publishing business:

SEO Sin #1: old information

This is the most common one. Someone in the publishing company did SEO training (or took SEO advice) seven or eight years ago, and that's still being held as gospel. And so, poor journalists are left carefully crafting meta keywords - which haven't been used by Google since 1998.

I've had to make four major changes to the SEO course since I started teaching it two years ago. That's how fast this area is changing. The SEO advice of seven years ago is not useless - it's worse than that. It can be actively damaging.

The waves of Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates have changed the world of search considerably, and in a manner that is not very friendly to clumsy attempts at SEO. We're certainly at a stage where bad or old-fashioned SEO can be worse than no SEO at all. And that's where some publishers are right now.

SEO Sin #2: all tactics, all the time

This is most often seen when there's an SEO department within the company, or they have one person keeping an eye on the SEO blogs. Edicts come down from on high about keywords, or URL patterns, but without any context or explanation. This is problematic, as it leaves journalists chasing SEO pixie dust, rather than making good content decisions through understanding what's attractive in search.

Journalists do not like operating in the dark. It gives then the sense that something is being hidden from them. They do care about being read - and widely read - so why not trust them with the strategy behind the tactics? Good SEO is built up over time, and that's a strategic move, not a tactical one.

There's a whole issue lurking here about strategic content planning - and how badly we've adjusted to doing that in digital - but that's fodder for another post.

SEO Sin #3: SEO as science

Somewhat connected with the previous point - there's a lurking assumption that big publishers can:

  1. Follow an SEO "checklist" and get results
  2. Expect to place well by virtue simply of being a big publisher.

Now both of these are true - to a degree. But that degree is not as large as they think it is. There's a strong human element of SEO - putting yourself in the mindset of a searcher - and a strong competitive one, as well. You are quite literally competing from ranking with everyone else writing about the same topic. And the "advantage" a large but unenthusiastic publisher has over (say) a small, but highly expert blogger is not as great as you might think.

The key point, though, is that this is not an exact science, as you're working with an ever-changing algorithm designed by humans. And you're trying to match yourself to the ways a human searcher's brain behaves. Losing sight of the human side of this has all sorts of consequences, not least failing to get the click-thought from a good search placement.

In conclusion…

…I'm not really sure what the conclusion is, honestly. Partially that many publishers are neglecting a key digital skill. Partially, that a lot of good journalists out there have a good sense that something's wrong and the drive to correct it.

I suppose, fundamentally, I worry that we're trying to build digital businesses on skill foundations that are so much weaker than we had in the print era - and that concerns me. And it should concern everyone who care about the future of professional journalism.

The #selfie pole

Spotted while doing the tourist thing with American visitors outside Buckingham Palace:

The Selfie Pole in use

Yup - it's an extensible selfie pole, for mounting and using your phone camera...

Hashtag Dunce, by Lord Jim

In Clay Shirky's seminal book on the effects of the internet on our culture Here Comes Everybody, he posited this:

The future presented by the internet is the mass amateurization of publishing and a switch from 'Why publish this?' to 'Why not?”

People seem to have take that to mean "hey, just go ahead". That's not what it means. At some point you need to ask yourself "Is it worth me publishing this? Is it adding anything? Am I providing something useful to someone else - or am I just promoting myself?".

If you don't do this, the chances are you are noise not signal - and people are starting to tune you out, or unfollow you. Too much noise, and you lose the right to send your signal to people.

Too many people will tweet themselves stupid this Social Media Week London, with the emphasis on stupid. Already this morning, I'm hovering over the unfollow button on a couple of people, not because they're tweeting too much, but because they're tweeting so much of zero or limited value. They're damaging my perception of who they are as people and professionals with their tweeting. That's the risk you take with thoughtless noise-making on social media

Would you be impressed if you saw someone tweeting what you're about to tweet? Or would you think them an idiot - or a relentless self-promoter with little interest in others? That's a question more people need to be asking.

Here's a tip - I'd much rather see your reaction to a speaker, or your contextualisation of their remarks, than a contextless retweeting of a paraphrased quote.

Last year's guide to live-tweeting might be useful here

Image by Lord Jim on Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons licence

Adam miralejo mirror

Somewhere between 20 and 30 years ago, a skinny teenager who had finally outgrown his puppy fat sat watching TV in his front room in a small Scottish town. He was probably with his younger brother, and was almost certainly reading - until he heard the BBC children's presenters wish the children watching good luck with their exams.

"Thanks a bunch," he thought. "Our exams finished weeks ago". And then he threw his book at the TV. The BBC did not care about him, clearly.

And people wonder why the "Yes" vote in Scotland is so strong today.

That teenager was, of course, me. And that memory - amongst many others like it - is why I won't be surprised if Scotland votes "yes" today.

Childhood friends split

I've been watching the campaign with great interest, but writing very little (just the odd comment here and there). I've been reading as old school friends debate it on Facebook. One is very strongly "no", another very strongly "yes". Both are artists, and both have very valid perspectives on the situation. The general balance amongst my friends still up there seems around 50/50.

This is what happens when one part of the country forgets that the other has a different education system, legal system and (in many ways) culture. If Scotland leaves, the London-centric culture of organisations like the BBC and the civil service will have to shoulder an awful lot of the blame.

I grew up in Scotland. I moved up there a little before my fourth birthday, and have only glimpses of memories of my time living in Manchester before that. I would go on to live there until I left for university, and would visit regularly until my parents retired to Suffolk in my early 20s. In fact, I have spent just under half my life considering Scotland home. But I'm not Scottish.

But then, am I English? I may have been born English, but I didn't live there for any significant length of time until I was pretty much an adult. It's just not a label I can identify with. I've always called myself British. It captures both my upbringing and my adult life down south.

For a long time, I intended to write nothing about the referendum. I'm not resident in Scotland, I can't vote in the referendum and I can't honestly call myself Scottish. But today, walking back from a nursery drop-off and a coffee, I found a joke by Martin playing on my mind.

Identity crisis

If Scotland votes "yes" today, I won't know how to describe myself in a few years. I will, of course, still be technically both English and British. Britain is an island, not a nation. The United Kingdom will just no longer encompass the whole of Britain.

But an UK without the Scots feels somewhat empty to me. The country I will be a citizen of will no longer reflect part of what makes me who I am today. It will no longer contain a land and a people I love dearly. The UK has always felt like a family to me - a bickering family, true enough, and one with some serious problems , but a family none the less. And now someone is considering leaving the family. A family that loses a member is weaker for it.

If the Scots go, a small part of my identity will have been torn away.

Up until this morning, I didn't have a strong opinion about the way I wanted the vote to go - but I do now. I want a "No", but by a small, maybe tiny, margin. And, personally, I'd like to see fuller devolution. More powers to the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish parliaments, and an English parliament - outside London - to go with them. What we now think of as the Westminster parliament should be restricted to national issues only - ones that have an impact on all of the constituent parts of the UK.

There must be change

If the Scots vote to keep the UK together, then we should not return to business as normal. We should work to make it a genuinely United Kingdom, rather than a number of weaker kingdoms being pushed around by the big brother with delusions of grandeur. A "No" vote with no such change will only guarantee a "Yes" vote further down the line.

I don't want that. I want to be able to take my daughter to the land I grew up in, and have her know that it is part of her homeland, too.

Censor facebook

Fascinating interview with Monika Bickert, the head of global policy for Facebook:

We use technology to help us triage reports, and we also use Microsoft’s Photo DNA to help us prevent images of child exploitation from being uploaded to the site, but human beings are the people responsible for reviewing content at Facebook. We take a lot of pride in that. We have people that are specialized by topic area, so a safety team, which has experts on everything from terrorism to self harm. Then we also have people who are language specialists, so if something is reported from Turkey, the person who reviews that will be a native Turkish speaker.

Lots of corporate jargon, too, but you can see some interesting shapes through the linguistic obfuscation.

The digimag bloat problem

While I'm quoting Tweets:

Hard to disagree. And people have been saying this for a long time.

That's not to say that digital magazines can't be done right on tablets. It's just that the current approach of shovelling the print edition into a digital replica, and hiding it behind the Newsstand icon isn't going to work.

This has been lurking in my tabs for a while. Facebook is starting to experimentally mark satirical articles - from The Onion in particular - as such:

"We are running a small test which shows the text “[Satire]" in front of links to satirical articles in the related articles unit in News Feed. This is because we received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others in these units," a Facebook representative told Mashable.

Some feel this isn't needed:

My counter argument? There's an entire site devoted to examples of people not realising that Onion articles are humour:

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