Archive for March, 2009

h1

Protesters got sophisticated, the FT got pwned

March 28, 2009

You have to give it to the people who have put this together – they have achieved an April Fool’s trick to rival the best of them.

Entitled “not the Financial Times”, and dated 1 April, it looks at first glance to be the real pink paper. It seems to be on the right newsprint, and the typeface has been aped brilliantly – though not perfectly. But the editorial is irreverent, and in places downright offensive. And there is no doubting the target of the derision – big business and Government. Welcome to anti-G20 week.

It’s hard to agree with some of the sentiment contained in the 12-page paper, though it does attempt to maintain a sense of humour about what it’s doing. On balance, it’s a winning formula. It may just be because I’m a PR guy, but this had me in awe for fifteen minutes while I examined it in detail. (Bear in mind I’m slightly obsessed with media – for example I’m still pretty sure I can tell every UK national newspaper just from it’s newsprint and typeface. Not proud.)

Look out for similar devices in the week to come.

Advertisements
h1

Redoubt volcano eruption

March 28, 2009
As Alaskan volcano Redoubt continues to erupt, this image shows the plume reaching into space.  Taken by a weather satellite in orbit over equatorial Asia, the image is from the Alaska Volcano Observatory - http://www.avo.alaska.edu/).

As Alaskan volcano Redoubt continues to erupt, this image shows the plume reaching into space. Taken by a weather satellite in orbit over equatorial Asia, the image is from the Alaska Volcano Observatory - http://www.avo.alaska.edu/).

What an astonishing picture.  Spotted by scienceblogs.com.

h1

The economics of the ad-funded web

March 28, 2009

Why should we have to pay for information and services we receive over the internet?  I have never had to pay before now for things like Facebook, Gmail or Twitter.  I can use Spotify for free.  I have not bought a newspaper for years, but can still read The Times and The Guardian every day.

Right?

Well, I am quickly coming round to the view that this is not nearly as simple an argument as people make it sound.  I think we may have this one wrong.

Here is a confession: I would rather pay £10 a month to use Spotify without adverts.  Why?  Partly this is aesthetic – I just don’t want my playlists interrupted by sponsors’ messages.  But there is also an economic angle – since I am unlikely to buy  many CDs ever again, Spotify will save me much more than £10 a month.  So why on earth would I complain about paying for such a brilliant service?

Yet people feel very strongly about this – why should we pay for something when we got it for free before now?  The truth is, there is no such thing as a free service.  We pay for the services we value, one way or another.  In the main, these services are ad-funded, meaning that some brand is actually paying for its delivery.  They are not doing this for free.  Every time you buy that brand, you just paid for the so-called “free” service too.

What’s wrong with this?  Two things.  If I am a consumer of the brand in question, but not the net service, why should I fund both? Better I pay for what I use.

Secondly, this approach is inefficient. The way to ensure consumers get the best deal is to have price transparency and competition.  If a net service is ad-funded, we have no way of knowing whether the brand is striking a good deal or not.  The problem for consumers here is that, if the brand pays more than it needed to advertise, the only losers are that brand’s consumers, who end up paying more.  And the only winners from this are the owners of the “free” service. The money is flowing from my wallet into their bank account.

I’d rather just pay for what I use, thanks.

(Hat tip to my friend @masoke who got me thinking about this via a 140-chars argument on Twitter!)

Update: Someone pointed out this all-encompassing “how to” on getting paid for online content, and it cited an excerpt from the brilliant Time magazine article on micropayments for newspapers that got me started in the first place: “One of history’s ironies is that hypertext — an embedded Web link that refers you to another page or site — had been invented by Ted Nelson in the early 1960s with the goal of enabling micropayments for content. He wanted to make sure that the people who created good stuff got rewarded for it. In his vision, all links on a page would facilitate the accrual of small, automatic payments for whatever content was accessed.”  He got it!

h1

The basis of moral decisions

March 24, 2009

Best I mention first off – this blog won’t be all about morality, though it may feature from time to time. This blog will meander but is likely to include stuff about economics, science, marketing, social media and communications, as well as things that are, well, just funny, in my opinion. And this – my opinion – will likely feature heavily too (if I know myself).

So with that said, let me get to the subject of this post.  I was discussing recently with a great friend the subject of how we make moral judgments, when I was reminded of a brilliant piece of work last year by a team of neuroscientists in the US.  These scientists were looking for a scientific explanation for moral judgments, and designed an experiment where they measured the brain activity of various subjects while they were asked to make moral decisions.

They posed a classic dilemma: you discover a train is hurtling down a track and will kill five people who are in the train’s path further down the track. In the first scenario, you are offered the choice to pull a lever that makes the train reroute to a different track, where there is one person on the track. In other words, you can act to save five people by killing one. As brutal as it sounds, most people end up agreeing they would pull the lever. The neuroscientists analysed brain activity as people made this calculated judgment.

In the second scenario, you are offered the same choice – to save the five by killing one – but this time you have to push someone under the train, slowing it down so it stops before reaching the five. Most people, when offered this choice, feel that they should not intervene, even though the outcome is identical (in terms of lives saved and lost, anyway).

The experimenters examined which parts of the brain were being used to make this decision, and found one area that came alive with electrical signals when they made the decision whether to push someone under the train.  In other words, in most cases some brain function seems to have overruled our calculated view that one death to save five is better than five to save one.

The quite comforting conclusion is that, while we are able to make calculated moral decisions even where they involve purposefully killing someone, we seem to have evolved to not want to do things like push other people under trains.  Thus backing up my deep optimism towards human nature.