Saturday, 12 May 2012

Social media

It's a long one. 

I went to a day of workshops on libraries, all interesting and fun. The last workshop, from social media guru Phil Bradley, was very insightful.

It was good to be made to think about these issues from this perspective, I don't think about things like this in a professional light - for me, the internet has always been a big playground, the place I go to unwind after work, to be silly and creative, to chat - it's the polar opposite of work. (I know that's not true for everyone, depending on their job.)

I had to take a deep breath at some of the things he said, because when I first came across the online world, it was through blogs, and few people were using their real names or pictures of themselves. Sometimes a blogger would reveal a photo and it was like they were doing a strip-tease. And there was general horror among bloggers when Facebook arrived - what, you used your REAL NAME? People could see it was you - and your boss could connect to you too?

I've had a presence online more or less since 2005 but what I liked about it was the anonymity. I haven't been so comfortable coming out from behind a mask, which is why I'm rarely on Facebook . Now that this talk made me think about establishing a more professional presence online, I wonder if I need to set up separate blogs, Twitters, etc, for work?

Anyway, here are some of the points made by Phil Bradley. You social media types are all au fait with this already, but for me it was all revelatory.

1.) Content is no longer King  - it's all about the context of where you find information - no longer on websites, but across different social media. (there was a running joke about the Big 6 - can you name the Big 6?)

2.) Websites are becoming less useful. More attention is being paid to individual people, rather than to websites as in the past. He gave the example of the American being sued by his old company - when he stopped tweeting about their products and moved elsewhere, his thousands of followers obviously went with him. But they were following him, not his company. 

Being on social media gives people power and authority - Phil made the point that we are all self-employed now, whether we work for a company or not. The job for life has gone. (This struck home in  my present circumstances.)It is true, more and more frequently people have found my blogs by doing information searches in blogs, rather than through Google - I wondered why, and this explains it.
- related point -  Two other speakers also mentioned Linked In  as being quite useful 1) because it tells you information about people's careers paths, which helps you in careers research, and 2) because they have a good deal with Google, if you are on Linked In, something positive and professional about you will come up first in Google searches on your name. So don't pooh-pooh Linked In.
3)  For information professionals, social media is information, equally as valid as information found in books, newspapers, etc. Organisations can't afford not to have a social media accounts, it's their business to know and be able to filter information. 

3.) Information people who say their organisations don't need a Facebook or Twitter account are scared at the future and concerned for their jobs. But Facebook is a professional site. Facebook will be setting up its own search engine eventually. It would like to encompass the whole internet - it doesn't want you to leave Facebook. (Yes, this is especially annoying when people post Guardian news links on FB and it won't let you go to the Guardian site but tries to make you install a Guardian app instead.)

4.) Because there is an overload of information, you need your own social network to be able to highlight the important stuff to you. If 5 of your Twitter friends are talking about something simultaneously, you know you need to see it.

5.) Google is not a search engine, it's an advertising agency with a search function. It is scared because after years of dominance, it now has competition who can do things better, and its day is nearing an end.  Information professionals need to know about better ways to search than on Google (some mentioned - Blekko, Zite aggregates social media stories, Scoop - a place to put interesting news stories. Pinterest. There were more. All of these can be shared, you can follow other users, etc. My head is spinning with the amount of stuff out there.)

6.) All of this means the future will be less searching, more finding.

And in summary:

Social results are more important.
You can affect rankings.
Go to where the conversations are.
Websites are less valuable as time goes on.
People ask people that they know.
It's all just information.

I'm sad that my playground is turning corporate. But I think it's inevitable.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Friday, 4 May 2012

A rare theatre review

I think we've established that I can't do criticism of any kind, but especially not theatre criticism. But I thought I'd give it a shot, just to mix it up a bit.

We went to see the Conquest of the South Pole at the Arcola. There was some irony in this because it's a play about being unemployed (it's a revival of a play that launched the careers of Alan Cummings & Ewan Bremner in the Edinburgh Fringe in the 80s, an East German playwright's play translated.)

I've given up the theatre temporarily due to reasons of no money but a friend persuaded me to go and I recklessly said yes before realising the tickets were £18.  This is quite steep for fringe theatre, even though they've finally got their central heating up and running (before it was like watching a play in a freezer.)

Now the Arcola are in Dalston and bend over backwards to try & make theatre accessible to people - pay what you can Tuesdays, concessions for the unemployed - the trouble is I'm not signing on though I don't have a job, so I'm poor but don't have the ID you need for concessions. Bah. It was turning the knife to sit there and watch a play about how shit it is being unemployed and humiliated when I couldn't really afford the ticket price. 

These 4 men are desperate, it opens with a blackly comic scene of one of them trying to hang himself. Another has the all the energy and charisma to persuade them to launch an imaginary expedition to the South Pole in their attic, recreating the Norwegians' journey,even robbing a camping shop for supplies and learning how to cook seal meat.

He is messianic and gives them a sense of purpose and mission, though one of them says they should really recreate Shackleton's expedition, because it ended in failure, and they know all about failure. The affection between them and the way they care for each other was nice. I wish I had fellow jobless mates to hang out with & lift each others' morale.
The wife of one of them has a job in a chip shop, she tries to bring her husband  down to earth. I felt glad at the end that they rope her into the fantasy expedition, because her job as a woman otherwise just seemed to be nagging - maybe it was just the way the actor played it.

It was incredibly wordy and the language was a good mixture of poetic imaginative flights of fantasy and down to earth, scorching despair. It was beautifully acted by these four young men, they were throwing energy at you, but it was all a bit too... too shouty for me.   You wanted to tell them to calm down a bit because the lines were getting lost. Coupled with an uneven tone possibly due to the translation from German, it had less impact than it might, considering how close to the bone it should have been for me.

Best bit - the confident leader one having a meltdown in the job centre, using the metaphor of losing his way in the ice for giving in to despair and hopelessness.

What else? There was a whole family (all wearing hats) sitting in one row in the audience, they had kids of about 7 or 8 with them. At one point an actor unleashed the C word and the grandad got up and led the 7 year old out. Too late, the C bomb had already detonated. What were they thinking, and what was the theatre thinking, it just wasn't a play for children at all?

Also I am a terrible wuss. At one point the main character cuts himself accidentally with an axe, and though I KNEW it was fake blood and, you know, acting, I felt all faint, like I needed a lie down.

All in all, 3 polar ice picks out of 5. Points lost for shoutiness, and making me come over all faint.

Thursday, 3 May 2012


We had a little preliminary trip to the library. The library rocks. They don't just have art exhibitions here, they have all sorts - gigs, plays, you name it. A few years ago they had parkour, including a parkour workshop for kids. Some crazy parkour nutter jumped down the central stairwell, you can still see the hole his foot made on the 4th floor stair where he lost his footing.

Down in the cellar. It used to be Isaac Newton's house. A cleaner recently heard someone down here (it's pitch black and spooky.) They thought it was the ghost of Isaac Newton until they heard a snore - it turned out to be a tramp who had found his way in and was sleeping curled up in a corner.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

the last thing I wrote for money

I don't know what possessed me to seek on Amazon the book that was the Waterloo of my publishing career.

It was my first proper job out of college. I remember being told at interview I had the job and walking out of there in a daze - after 9 months of temping and volunteering and signing on (hmm...) I was in shock that I'd managed to find employment. I also remember thinking that I didn't like the MD or  trust her further than I could throw her, a hunch that proved correct, but I wasn't in a position to be fussy.

1 year 11 months later she told me I needn't bother coming in on Monday, (2 years is the minimum time of employment you can take them to court for unfair dismissal). One of the things that made me almost glad to go was dealing with this ridiculous fucking series. I think I wrote this blurb, I recall the desperation of trying to make it sound like a jolly crime caper when it is as utterly preposterous as it sounds.

And trying to come up with some kind of image for the cover. Why we couldn't use the American cover - oh, I remember, it was because they thought the American title sounded a bit 'Carry On...' this didn't go down well with the author, who was pompous and humorless, as you'd expect from a man who wrote tedious crime novels about a bishop.

It is set on an aircraft carrier. Does this bring a snappy graphic cover image to your mind?  No, me neither. (I see the Americans wisely went with a wreath floating in the water instead.) Racking my brains, I proposed an American navy cap.  She told me to ring up someone in the American Embassy and insist on getting written permission to use this image. (Remember, this is all in the days before the internet, email, wikipedia, Google images...)

I managed to get hold of an exceptionally patient woman called Patti who said kindly that the American navy cap was in the public domain and it wasn't in their authority to give permission anyway. I relayed all this to my boss but she insisted I ring Patti back and get written permission. 

The final straw was when I hadn't brought it up at an editorial meeting, (I was always too terrified of her to speak at editorial meetings, plus I hadn't realised I was meant to) so it hadn't been on the sales team's schedule and they hadn't told the bookshops about it so no one had put in advance orders yet.

I wondered what the big deal was - there surely wouldn't be lines of impatient customers at the bookshop doors waiting for publication date of this dodgy hardback rubbish crime novel that had already been published long before in America.  If it got put back in the schedule it wasn't the end of the world - and they really, really weren't missing anything, I wanted to say... but by then my days were numbered.

Anyway, here it is. The last thing I wrote for money. I'm really not proud.

(I might have a look for the other books I wrote blurbs for if I can remember, though. It's interesting to see if your words have been recycled all these years later.)