Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation


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It’s NaNoWriMo time…

…or, “Look! I wrote a novel!”

Every November, from the 1st to the 30th of the month, hundreds of thousands of would-be writers around the globe join virtual hands for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo, or to give it its proper title, National Novel Writing Month, has been running since 1999 and growing in popularity every year. It has a simple premise: write a 50,000 novel by 11:59:59 on the 30th November.

With that goal in mind, there’s no time for the over-critical internal editor to get his or her sweaty hands on your writing; if you want to make it you’ve got to write around 2,500 words per night. It’s this fact that makes it so successful. I’m sure that there are many of us out there who would like to write a novel, but think they aren’t good enough or aren’t capable. It’s rubbish, everyone can do it if they really want to, you just need to stop judging yourself for long enough (approximately 30 days should do it). The results can be amazing and inspiring.

The Righteous Dead - my first novel

The Righteous Dead - my first novel

Last year I took my first dive into the murky waters of story writing – well at least for the first time since high school, which was over 20 years ago. The result was The Righteous Dead, a story about two normal people in a very extraordinary situation. The first draft was 55,000 words and written during November. The second draft was 66,000 and took me another six months. Since receiving my proof copies (a prize for completing NaNoWriMo) I have only allowed them to be read by a few people, who have helped me to refine it further. Holding the printed book in my hands was one of the proudest moments of my life; in some senses I still can’t believe I did it. In the next few months I will either self-publish the book or send it to a literary agent.

Just think, in a few months this could be you. Why don’t you give it a try? There are writers groups all over the country to help you if you need it.

This year I’ll be setting out again on another adventure, this time into sci-fi. I will be accompanied by my friend, and first-time author, Colin Taylor. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Thanks.

Pixies - Bossanova album cover


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The album that saved my (musical) life

Pixies - Bossanova album coverThis is a post about the Pixies.

It’s August 1990 and my life is about to change. I’d like to say that someone had passed me a copy of the seminal album, Doolittle, with its dark, jagged lyrics, but they hadn’t. The album I had heard was the smoother and less predatory Bossanova, and from that day on my musical taste changed irrevocably. A large part of my existing music collection never got played again.

I’m sure we all have an epiphany of a similar nature at some time in our lives, I’m glad mine was musical. That was over 20 years ago, but here I am still listening to the Pixies.

Why are you telling me this?

I’m sure that’s the question you’re asking. Twenty years is a long time, especially in technology. The internet – as we know it – didn’t even exist in 1990. So you might think that a group like the Pixies are no longer relevant.

But it’s not the case, and I, for one, am glad.

The Pixies, or just Pixies (no The) to be exact, have embraced digital media as part of their touring comeback. They’ve grasped the essential nature of the social web to create an online community that is both forward-looking (new fans) and reminiscing happily (old fans like me), successfully spanning the generation gap.

They’ve done this by:

1. Creating a multi-platform web presence

Each platform has its own strength and weaknesses. The Pixies are harnessing this by creating a central hub (pixiesmusic.com) surrounded by a mobile app (iPhone and Android), a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The Twitter account is mainly push messaging, the Facebook page is for discussion, the mobile app pulls the web presence onto mobile devices (including streaming capabilities), and the main site contains all this plus e-commerce functionality. They’re not the greatest designed sites in the world, but they work.

2. Creating a core content pot

The main site is built around one idea, to create a single source of Pixies information online, from the basic discography to an ever-growing gigography – a complete list of all the gigs the band has played. Fans are encouraged to provide their thoughts, memories, pictures and even recordings of these gigs. The same content structure is used in the mobile applications.

3. Giving something for nothing

If you want people to give something to you, you have to give something to them. For signing up to the site you get a free live EP in digital format and access to stream old live concerts and demo’s. It’s an immediate value-add for the consumer. By showcasing their live sound (which is excellent), fans are also encouraged to see the band play live (tour dates and tickets available on the site) or to buy recordings of other shows, spanning from the early ’90s to the present.

4. Keeping content fresh

The web is a bottomless pit of content it seems. By mining its depths, the Pixies are regularly sharing old interviews, live performances and TV appearances. These are mostly from YouTube, but sometimes highlight content from fan-sites. Just a few days ago, I came cross a site that was streaming a recording of an interview with the Pixies on John Peel’s radio show. It had been taken from a tape recording and cleaned up. I have a tape of the very same interview in my loft, and was compelled to comment that it was the case. These constant reminders of the past make great fodder for discussion amongst the faithful and Facebook posts regularly get a lot of comments.

It’s great to see this kind of renaissance. They’ve approached it just the right way, and are reaping the rewards.

For the interested among you…

The music of the Pixies is fantastic, but don’t take my word for it, take a listen:

Bossanova – where it all started for me – listen to Bossanova

Come on Pilgrim – the debut 8 track mini-album from March 1987 – listen to Come On Pilgrim

Surfer Rosa – the first studio album from 1988, a short, but not so sweet, chicano-influenced mix produced by Steve Albinilisten to Surfer Rosa

Doolittle – the iconic Pixies album – listen to Doolittle

Trompe Le Monde – the last studio album, a sci-fi inspired piece of alt-rock that’s so good that it’s over before it’s started – listen to Trompe Le Monde

Or for a single album overview there’s always Death to the Pixies, a collection of album tracks – listen to Death to the Pixies

Enjoy!


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The future of innovation is collaboration

The word 'Innovation' written on a chalkboardJust a quick post to point you in the direction of my latest article over on the Volume blog. Titled ‘The future of innovation is collaboration’, it looks at how we address the the issues caused by change whilst continuing to innovate our product and service offerings.

As always, your comments are welcome.


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Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation – an update

Back in June I discovered that ‘Social Reading’ site Scribd had been using Facebook to personalise my user experience, but in all the wrong ways.

It’s three month’s on and I was reintroduced to the subject through a tweet from Laurence Buchanan (below). It seemed that Scribd wasn’t the only site in Facebook’s Instant Personalisation program. Rotten Tomatoes also takes the same approach. You can find out more at Techcrunch about the initial partnership.

To check the veracity of the claims, I visited the Rotten Tomatoes site. Without logging in or creating an account (this will become important in a moment) I did see my friends movie likes and dislikes. Imagine my surprise when, upon visiting the application settings page in Facebook, I was greeted with the following.

Rotten Tomatoes application setting in Facebook

I really don’t remember giving them permission to do anything. Not good.

As a result I decided to look a little further into the Instant Personalisation program.

Is this as far as it goes?

Instant Personalisation launched in 2010 with eight partners in tow. The eight were:

  1. Scribd
  2. Bing
  3. TripAdvisor
  4. Clicker
  5. Rotten Tomatoes
  6. Docs.com
  7. Pandora
  8. Yelp

A year on, I though it might be good to see how things had worked out for them.

Scribd

Hmmm…. I think we know about this one.

Bing

There was much fanfare about the launch, but as of today, I don’t get any Facebook personalisation. I can find the ‘Social Search‘ page, but when you try to connect to it, I get the following message:

Bing and Facebook - not working right now

Maybe it’s a UK thing, but I’ll take that as a ‘not working out right now…’

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor - home page menu

I can sign in with Facebook on TripAdvisor, but there’s no ‘instant personalisation’ going on as far as I can see. Another one that hasn’t worked out.

Clicker

Clicker - home page menu

Again, I can log in with my Facebook account, which all seems pretty sensible, but there’s no personalisation on accessing the home page. Scratch that one.

Rotten Tomatoes

Yep, we know about this too.

Docs.com

Docs.com - home page menu

At Microsoft’s Docs.com site, there’s a Social Plugin displaying activity from the Docs.com Facebook page and the ability to log in via Facebook Connect. No instant personalisation though, maybe it’s catching.

Pandora

Sorry, I can’t check this one, as it’s US-only. If someone could give me an update I’d be happy to publish it.

Yelp

Yelp - home page menu

Wow! This is a good one. At Yelp it seems that Facebook never existed. Not only is there no mention of Facebook on their home page, but when you try to create an account there’s no option to use your Facebook account. That’s a quick turnaround: launch partner to estranged relative in just 12 months.

6 out of 8 isn’t bad

So it looks as if the majority of the launch partners have seen sense. I have to say that I’m glad. I’ve got nothing against using my Facebook credentials to create a more social experience on the web, but it has to be my choice, not some faceless organisation’s.

Maybe it’s time Facebook updated the Instant Personalisation page at http://www.facebook.com/instantpersonalization/.