Content Strategy before ‘Content’ existed…

Back in the last century (before the internet) I got to run a project for a large financial organisation in the midlands – they wanted me to look at the way they were using their forms and workflows in the company secretariat.

It was a work experience type job and I don’t think they expected me to do anything really.

The Project Sponsor had his head stuffed with ‘low hanging fruit’ and told me to focus on the most used forms to see what efficiencies could be improved there.

As a keen student of skewed probability theory, black swans and general all round Contrarian, I took the Pareto Principle rule and reasoned that 20% of the forms were doing 80% of the work. If I further reduced the number in that 20% group – the number in the 80% group would rise, store rooms stuffed with rarely used forms!

So I took the longer route of looking at the 80% of least used forms and suggested combining some of them and their associated tasks.


Needless to say the Project Sponsor (who saw innovation as his domain) buried my report and wrote me a terrible reference.

2 lessons for me there: 1. There’s an obvious parallel with webcontent on your site 2. I need to be thinking about freelance work – so I can do more of this kind of thinking and not be thinking about organisational politics etc! 

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Choices or distractions?

Euan Semple (soon joined by Paul Miller and Richard Dennison) kicked it off on Facebook with a quote from Peter Drucker – saying the human race will be unprepared for the choices technology will bring.

The ensuing thread brought to mind an article I’d read by Tim Harford the week before in the weekend FT about  our interaction with technology – one line has been stuck in my mind all week: ‘What does email expect from us?’ extrapolate that to ‘What does Facebook expect from us?’ et al.. (ultimately challenging his reader to start instead with a pencil and blank sheet of paper).

Email arrives in our inbox sorted by date – demanding an immediate response, Facebook is constantly appealing to our idle curiosity – who hasn’t clicked on a photo of someone you don’t know just to see their profile, so often we go on-line to be distracted (things happen so much easier and faster on-line).

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Viktor Mayer Schonberger’s book ‘Delete’ before – where he argues that our on-line memories are now all too readily accessible years after we created them.

So to paraphrase Drucker – Society is not prepared for it’s new choices: or society is not prepared for it’s new distractions.

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Facebook and forgetting

Read a fascinating article by April Dembosky on Facebook’s effect on the way we relate to each other online (Weekend FT) yesterday. It contained the marvellously apt phrase about online life ‘Our brains are increasingly colonising our hearts’.

Combine that with Viktor MayerSchönberger’s book ‘Delete’ that argues we should be less concerned about the fleeting nature of our digital personas and more concerned about the fact that those records are increasingly retrievable.

Seems we might be making a pretty toxic cocktail of our bad dreams.

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Online food shopping at Waitrose – what puts me off

Every now and then I decide to do my weekly food shop online – it’s got so much going for it in terms of saving my time and cutting down my car usage.

What puts me off however; is the knowledge that the groceries haven’t been selected for me by their use-by date. If I’m in the store I’m watching those labels like a hawk and it might even affect my choices.

I’m amazed that Waitrose haven’t put two and two together and realised that people who shop online are probably ‘time poor’ and want something that’s going to give back the options.

If I’m going to commit to spending at least £50 (threshold order) with them, I expect something in return – it can’t be that difficult can it?

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Black Swans and the Wisdom of Crowds

Back in 1984 I came up with a theory for my Philosophy degree – it went something like this:

We base our knowledge of the world on experience; say ‘the sun rises in the east’. The more times it happens increases our expectancy of it happening in the future until in our dotage we can say we’re 100% certain it’s going to rise in the east tomorrow and will do so ad infinitum because it’s always done so in the past.

But ad infinitum?

However many times it’s actually risen in the east is always going to be an infinitely small number compared to the infinite number of times it might rise in the north, south or west (or anywhere inbetween). So what might seem a ‘dead cert’ today will be a ‘rank outsider’ tomorrow.

Nicholas Taleb came up with the same theory and called it ‘Black Swan’ theory (we corresponded).

It strikes me that the theory affects ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ in it’s crudest form – just because enough people believe something today doesn’t make it true tomorrow.

But if that’s doing your head in, just ask yourself how many Black Swans can dance on the head of a pin…

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A new way of categorising metrics for social media

Just read something from the guys at Econsultancy about how UK business was investing more in Social Media but failing to measure ROI; which set me thinking about the metrics you can measure for social media – as far as I know no one has categorised them yet.

I’ve just finished a 5 month secondment at DFID (Department for International Development) who were introducing a ‘Collaborative Resource’ (basically a wordpress platform with a discussion forum and a space to upload documents).

Its purpose was to encourage online collaboration and policy influencing for the Empowerment and Accountability workstream, DFID were looking how to measure its success and promote a new way of working for this global initiative.

So I devised a reporting and objectives process for them, made up of:

Content. How users were engaging with existing content and navigation (standard site metrics).

Function. How users were making use of the forum and uploading documents influencing policies.

Communication. How the site was integrating with the rest of the internal comms matrix (traffic origin, via internal blog mentions, intranet news, internal surveys etc).

Just remember ‘CFC’ (in a good way!).

Obviously that’s just a simplified account of the metrics process, my final report contains a lot of recommendations (that I’m not giving away for free!) but if anyone wants me to come and do something similar for their organisation I’m currently available.

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