Archive for the 'Links' Category

Five things I learned from Google Ngram

Note: I promised that I’d ask Richard Stallman if I had represented his ideas correctly. Turns out I hadn’t. I have pasted his response in the comments section below. It’s a fascinating debate, and goes to the heart of Talknormalism: if you describe something with a misleading name, then you start to make assumptions based on the name, not on the facts.

Before I went on holiday, I pointed out the address of the Google Ngram viewer, which originally came from my creative friend Ryan Hayes. Ngram allows you to search for the frequency of a word or phrase in books going back to 1500: the database is 500 billion words. You type in the phrase, and it draws a graph for you.

You can imagine that after a couple of Mojitos on Miami Beach last month I was thinking about little else, so here’s what I thunk:

1. Intellectual property

I once wrote a book criticising the abuse of our intellectual property laws, but the more people I meet who have profited from them, the less I feel like defending IP in its current form. I particularly recall speaking at a very posh luxury goods conference in Paris which made me want to set about my fellow panellists with a cosh.

Dr Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation is the enemy of lazy IP thinkers, and in this article he argues that “intellectual property” is a meaningless term, popularised for propaganda purposes by the people who have most to gain financially from it, and that it was rarely heard until 1990. Here’s the Ngram of intellectual property that he created, showing how recent the concept is:

Original research: Dr Richard Stallman

2. Angels

As committed Talknormalist Brett Hetherington writes on his blog, “we live in superstitious times”. Having seen my tip, he used Ngram to go searching for “angels”, and discovered that, in a secular age, we’re actually writing twice as much about these fantasy beings as we were 30 years ago. Brett or Dr Stallman might argue that intellectual property is no more real than the idea of an angel: both concepts being a convenient construct designed to give power to, and increase the revenues of, global organisations that seek to exploit us. I’ll email Dr S to ask, and Brett can comment below if he thinks I’ve overstepped.

Original research: Brett Hetherington

3. Paedophiles (or pedophiles)

Moral panic or long-overdue recognition of a problem that was ignored for too long? Although the term was coined in the 19th century, we certainly write a lot more about paedophiles these days.

4. Low-hanging fruit

The Patient Zero of buzzword bingo was not always so pervasive. The phrase took off at about the same time as “intellectual property” did – probably because many of the same people were using both phrases. If some consultancy firm made up the phrase “low-hanging fruit” today, it would probably use IP law to protect it, and we’d all have to talk about MegaGlobalConsult Low Hanging Fruit™ instead. I think I’m saying that we got lucky, but it doesn’t feel that way.

5. Honesty and transparency

The great thing about “transparency” is that it doesn’t have ethical baggage – it’s a technical description of your activity that’s suited to amoral business relationships. Therefore transparency is a much more useful word than “honesty” if you work in marketing. Transparency is jolly popular lately, but honesty is in long-term decline – in books, anyway. And we write more often about angels than we do about honesty, which is proof that we’re collectively bonkers.


The doctor is in

Welcome back to work everybody. Except for those of you who work in call centres, for whom Christmas is just a chance to meet a new set of people asking idiot questions; and Scots, who put their feet up for one more day than the rest of us.

Sorry for the absence of talknormalising in the gifting season: there’s been a lot going on which, among other things, forced me to delay the second annual Plattie awards. Specifically, I’ve been finishing the Talk Normal book, which will be out later this year. It’s a sort of remix of the greatest hits plus lots of all-new tracks that you will never be able to read online. Let’s see if the strategy works. It did great in the music business.

If that doesn’t sound compelling enough, The Finch (my publisher) promises me there will be a special deal on the book for friends of Talk Normal. I’ve got no idea how it will work, but he means you, free subscribers.

While you wait for the first post of 2011, I’d just like to point out that the British government has declared an end to the War On Motorists this week. You might consider that the government is involved in a couple of more important wars that it might have put a stop to first. But that would imply that we were talking about actual change, rather than grabbing a cheap headline, so I’ll merely point out  that Talk Normal’s opinion of this particular war is already on the record.

This is the world social media made

I had hoped my introductory remarks from the Market Research Society’s Social Media Conference last Thursday would have been the highlight, but I was wrong. I thought people would be retweeting my rousing speech about the path to the fire exits and the location of lunch, but I was mistaken.

Instead the delegates were talking about a ripping speech by internet Eeyore Andrew Keen, the author of The Cult of the Amateur.

The Cult of the Amateur was an angry book about how the internet is destroying culture by creating a world in which everyone’s contribution to a debate is equal, whether or not they know anything worth contributing; a world in which a CEO blog is more “authentic” than a press release, even though they are both written by the same person (a clue for anyone who isn’t in the copywriting business: that’s not the CEO).

It’s a book that is easy to hate (two stars on Amazon from reviewers), but I loved it. This is not to say I agreed with all of it.

Now he’s worrying about the effect that pervasive social media is having on the way we live, and that’s what he was talking about at the conference. A clip here:

The way that social media changes our behaviour worries me, for personal and professional reasons. Personally, as Keen points out (though not in this clip), the ease with which data about us can be collected may mean that privacy becomes something that only rich people pay for, rather than a right. Professionally I note that, when I’m doing editing jobs, increasingly better communication is confused with frantically saying more things.

Most of us spend hours a week hoovering up thousands of pointless status messages, tedious posts, updates and tweets, just in case. It’s like stuffing yourself with the entire menu in a crap restaurant, in the hope you will find something worth eating.

The War On Hyberbole

Forget the death, maiming, destruction and ruinous expense: war can also be an opportunity to photograph your dog

We’re at war. I’m sure you noticed.

There are the usual military wars but, for people who like to call talk radio stations at 4am or visit their golf club bar to complain, the real wars are closer to home.

For example, if you’re the type of person who, before forming an opinion, wonders “What would Jeremy Clarkson think?”, you will have noticed that there is a War on Motorists going on. Don’t worry, car fans. I live two minutes from the A12, and I can tell you that you’ve already won this one. My advice to militant motorists: rather than whining about speed cameras and fuel tax and congestion charges and cycle lanes and car parking charges in the letters pages of local newspapers, open up a second front. Tarmac over the Eurostar line and invade France. Just as long as you promise not to come back.

The Mail tells us that the government is busy recruiting ex-ministers for a War on Dole Cheats. I approve of less thieving, but Labour ex-ministers of all people should know that it’s easier to start a war than to win one. Note also that Dole Cheats have been abusing the well-intentioned Tanks for the Homeless scheme for so long that they’re armed and ready to fight for what isn’t actually theirs. Well, they would be, but The Jeremy Kyle Show is on in half an hour, and after that the chippy’s open.

A quick scan through today’s news also shows that there are wars of varying believability being waged on our behalf on antibioticscybercrime, gold, de-legitimization, and media center software. It’s not an exaggeration, because they are exactly like real wars! If someone has to die so that media center software can be defeated, one day our kids will thank us.

Also in the news: Lance Armstrong has declared war on the French hotel industry. Either that or he complained about some French hotels; but that doesn’t sound quite as exciting when you’re writing a headline.

Among blogger armchair generals you’re never more than a couple of posts away from a fictitious War on Something. For example, over at loopy United Liberty, the dastardly US Government is waging a war on dogs, in which we must take sides:

A world where drugs are widely available legally would be supremely preferable to a world in which I have to fear that a SWAT team will break down my door and kill my pets

it concludes. I’m curious to see half a dozen sausage dogs in camouflage jackets trying to load a mortar, but I can’t say I’m rooting for either side, based on this article.

You could say – wait for it – that I don’t have a dog in this fight.

With everyone – and now their pets – currently conscripted in some media-invented war or other, our armed forces are going to be overstretched. I have a way to cut the workload: we can beat the internet’s lazy writers at their own game by declaring a War On Hyberbole.

There may be a million-strong Blogger Army against us, doubtlessly even now claiming they would die typing for the right to exaggerate, but I’ve got a plan to win that can’t fail.

1. We wait for one of the Blogger Army to announce that he or she is the General.

2. Ten comments later the rest of them will be far too busy complaining that this is exactly what Hitler would have done to fight against us*.

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* Ironically, on this occasion they would be correct.

Kicking off

Wayne's father Mickey

I completely agree with Sally Whittle’s excellent blog about the desperate press releases that use the World Cup as a hook to write about something else entirely.

I’d nevertheless like to point out to all these opportunistic press releasers that Talk Normal had got there first.

Pepsico management, enterprise databases and Nicole Kidman are like drunk Vikings. I think.

Which element of this picture is the enterprise database?

Enthusiastic Talknormaliser Marc alerted me to a tweet earlier this week from IDC:

jbozman It’s becoming very clear that enterprise apps and databases will be the “straw that stirs the drink” in the enterprise server refresh cycle.

I’m delighted to hear it. I just don’t really know what I’m hearing. I was worried that everyone else knows what being a straw that stirs a drink is and I didn’t, so when I started to type the phrase into Google, I was pleased that it immediately suggested, from previous searches, “what does the straw that stirs the drink mean?”. Educate us, bountiful internet:

The urban dictionary suggests that it is a term used to describe someone who is the life of the party, and suggests Party Viking as an alternative – which I like much more, as “databases will be the ‘Party Viking’ in the enterprise server refresh cycle” suggests your software is even now wearing a little plastic helmet with horns on it. It is stripped to the waist and barfing behind your data center’s sofa. I don’t think that’s what IDC means, but I wish it was.

The journal Strategy and Leadership has an article about Pepsico management, which uses the straw-drink analogy as its title. The abstract explains the process of being the straw that stirs the drink as: “Strategic Planning is clearly a line function at PepsiCo”. Clearly this concept is not all about Viking hats.

Over at eLearn University, I consulted “The Defining Moment: The Straw That Stirs The Drink Of Motivational Leadership” to learn that “There are three ways to transfer your motivation to others. Give them information, make sense…” and then I gave up before I got to how to tell the story of your Defining Moment, lacking as I was in motivation to finish the sentence. They tell you this at Leadership University? God knows what they teach at Leadership Remedial School.

And I also find also that, according to The Hidden Meaning of Birthdays by Nancy Arnott, Geminis are this type of straw – as long as they are Geminis who were born on 20 June. Think of the Party Vikings she suggests like Errol Flynn, er, Nicole Kidman or, um, Lionel Ritchie. According to Arnott, people born on this day are inevitably straws that stir drinks, which suggests a possible management fast-tracking strategy at Pepsico: get Ritchie in. He’ll kick ass All Night Long.

But back to the 20 June Geminis: “Expressing your passionate feelings tends to churn up strong emotions in those around you… every event at work and on the home front elicits a Richter-scale reaction from you,” she says; which sounds about as unlike Kidman or Ritchie as it’s possible to get.

But what do I know? I don’t even understand a phrase that can be variously used to describe acting like a Viking, the process of strategic planning at a multinational consumer packaged goods company, talking about yourself under the pretence that you’re inspiring people, exuding earth-trembling passion in the style of Nicole Kidman or, to bring us back to where we started, making it obvious to people that their old computers are too slow.

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Talk Normal in meatspace

"Tools that help us": keeping my options open on instruments of torture; you never know.

Thanks to Claire Thompson and her extremely constructive The Tools That Help Us initiative, I’ll be a panellist in a session called Cleaning Up Communications at Tempero, 14-16 Great Portland Street, London W1W 8QW, on 25 June at 2pm.*

Click on the link to sign up. It’s free. Also on show: Darika Ahrens, Grapevine Consulting, on #fixpr; Richard Ellis of the Public Relations Consultants Association; Molly Flatt, 1000 Heads; Adam Parker, An Inconvenient PR Truth.

I’m allowed to talk for five minutes – rather than the five hours I’d prefer – so I’m taking advice on what to say if you’re coming along and want me to do requests.

Otherwise, show up and ask me a question, and we can exchange ideas. Remember when we used to do that? Now we can go to Twitter and ask the opinion of millions of people we don’t know, instead of just five of us. But let’s give this conversation thing one more go. For old time’s sake. Promise I won’t ask again.

* To save you the trouble of looking it up: North Korea v Ivory Coast, Brazil v Portugal.

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