I love to swear. Fucking love it. I also love my Nexus 4, however these two things do not mix well. One of the foibles of Android is that it doesn’t include swear words in its dictionary, and will not allow you to add them using the in-line “Add to dictionary” dialogue when typing something. The irony here, of course, is that somewhere Android must have a repository of naughty words that it knows to blacklist. Nonetheless, this is irritating to me.
Anyone reading The Times last weekend would have spotted my awkward face peering out from the front page of the Money section. Ashley and I were used as a case study of a freelancing couple who can’t get a mortgage. Our situation is a little different from most freelancers (a bizarre mixture of salaried employment, zero-hour contracts and ‘proper’ freelance work) but our homebuying options are no different – we have barely any. Halifax eased up their mortgage rules for the self employed last week, prompting the press interest.
Putting aside the biggest problem with the house buying market (that is, soaring prices in the rental market which make it impossible to save for a deposit) there is another spanner that has been slowly appearing in the works. Mortgages as products aren’t built for modern, flexible working. Our bank’s credit-checking software can’t deal with our various income streams, so it sputters and gives up.
“We’re sorry about that Mr Norris. Can we interest you in a personal loan?”
Coincidentally my MD also penned a feature for Real Business this week on the failure of the banks to support house buyers. He sold his last business for about £5 million in 2007, and is overseeing Crunch’s amazing growth. The company, of which he is the majority shareholder, is currently turning over about £2.5 million per year and is in profit (something almost unheard of for a four year old tech company). He, too, cannot get a mortgage.
Sputtering machines and cautious bankers conspire against us. They ruined our economy, so we’ve adapted the way we work to compensate. Now, they don’t understand the way we work, so they close the door in our faces.
Never were truer words spoken when thinking about the technology sector. Last week somebody asked me to name a large, publicly traded technology company which is still popular with both the public at large and the “cool kids” in the Valley and Shoreditch. The obvious answers would be Apple and Google, however both of those brands have been damaged recently by allegations of tax evasion, as well as other problems unique to each company. Apple, for instance, gets a lot of flack for its failure to cobble together decent cloud services and its zealous censorship of software running on its platforms, while Google takes a lot of heat for its collection of data and not-quite-puritanical interpretation of open source.
Despite promising to make Ashley lunch while she gets ready for work, I fail on account of some over-ripe spinach and a shortage of salad dressing. Nevertheless, she thanks me for having the foresight to try, and gives me a kiss before she leaves for work.
A friendly – and slightly eccentric – train conductor jostles me from my morning stupor to engage me in a conversation about my weekend plans. His parting shot is “Have a good weekend, and may all your endeavours in life prove fruitful!”
I am greeted at my desk by an email from someone I deeply respect congratulating me on a some recent work.
Isn’t it funny how sometimes the cumulative effect of several small gestures can really brighten up someone’s day? Honestly, this is what the world needs; more compliments.
I was lucky enough to be commissioned to write a piece for MATTER, which was then acquired by Medium while I was in the process of writing it, so it ended up there! It’s on a fantastically interesting female-first IT company that was founded in the 1960s. I first heard about this story because Lynda, who features heavily in the piece, is one of my best friends’ Mum. Just goes to show, sometimes the most interesting stories are right under your nose.
It’s no secret I love Brighton, and the city has an honest-to-goodness world class tech sector which gets barely any press. I’m on a mission to change that, so I penned a piece for Venture Village on the subject.
A little while ago the “Social Media” folder of my Feedly subscriptions was abuzz with news that a study had found that, of the various “Let’s drive engagement!”-type Facebook posts, the “fill in the blank” format out-performed others by quite some margin in terms of creating engagement.
My initial reaction to this news can be neatly summed up with this GIF -
Social media people are defined by their ability to “drive engagement”, so any post promising to revolutionise that process will very quickly spread through social media land; tweets will be tweeted, ones will be plussed, comments with awkward links to the commenter’s website will be left. Most of these posts are pure linkbait, based more on thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams than facts.
However, upon further inspection these posts appeared to be based on data – blessed data! – so I made a mental note to try it out sometime.
— Tom Bailey (@BomTailey) April 12, 2013
Yesterday I spent most of the day at the Brighton Dome attending BrightonSEO. Most of the people who know me raised at least one eyebrow when I announced I was going – I don’t have a lot of love for the SEO industry.
Trapping myself in an auditorium with a few hundred SEOs obviously isn’t my idea of a fun day out, but this year a hefty Content track was included in the agenda featuring some people I have a lot of respect for, so along I went.
I’m pleased to report the content stream was, by and large, very interesting. Lauren Pope from Brilliant Noise was particularly useful. The toilets, though, were a perpetual problem.
Anyone else at #brightonseo tried to pee in the sink thinking it was a urinal?
— malcolm coles (@malcolmcoles) April 12, 2013
Although I came away with the impression that the SEO industry has cleaned up its act somewhat, there were still some very obvious problems.
Tradebit’s Ralf Schwoebel, for example, didn’t even blush when recommending to a packed theatre that they post fake positive reviews to bury bad ones, something Google themselves warned against recently.
Similarly, there was plenty of casual talk about buying links in one form or another. BlueClaw’s Sean Walsh delivered a presentation featuring advice on how to identify up-and-coming website so you can buy your links on the cheap in the hope they’ll increase in authority later on (although I should say despite that, his presentation was one of the best of the day).
Not a huge shock, then, that things like this were said -
Ex-Googler says he won’t hire anyone who’s worked in SEO before, because they ‘think too dirty’. #brightonseo
— Lauren Pope (@La_Pope) April 12, 2013
Also not a huge shock was the petulant reaction to that admission -
— Jorge González (@kokebcn) April 12, 2013
Propellernet’s Stefan Hull rightly highlighted the “swagger” of SEOs and how it’s been curtailed in the last 18 months since Google started fighting back.
Despite Google’s attempts to push them in the right direction, SEOs still seems to be chasing after, and trying to find ways around, search algorithms rather than figuring out how to do content properly and investing appropriately. The dedicated Content track this year was a step in the right direction, although its venue (a small studio away from the main auditorium) seems to be indicative of its importance to the majority of attendees.
Hull pointed out he’s used a slide featuring this quote from Google’s Matt Cutts every year at BrightonSEO -
“One piece of advice I give to SEOs is don’t chase after Google’s algorithm, chase after your best interpretation of what users want, because that’s what Google’s chasing after.”
I hope he continues to use it until Cutts’ advice is taken on board.
Overall then a useful conference, although I still came away with a faint bad taste in my mouth.
One increasingly important (and uncomfortably cringe-inducing) part of the content marketer’s toolbox is “targeting influencers”. In plain English this means getting your stuff in front of an influential person in the hope that they’ll spread it onwards to their followers.
Influencer targeting can take many forms, and although marketers will tell you it’s the greatest mega-innovation ever, boiled down to basics it’s still just advertising. Twenty five years ago if Selfridges wanted to market a new handbag they’d “target” Vogue with a fat cheque allowing them to advertise on their pages. Now they’ll target a bunch of popular fashion bloggers with freebies in the hope that they’ll mention them. Same thing, just on a different scale and with different economics involved.
A problem with targeting influencers, however, is that lots of people online are full of shit. Sure, a guy on Twitter might have 100,000 followers, but as we’ve been finding out recently those could have been bought for a few quid. Thankfully, a few of the more popular social services out there give you ways to spy on users’ true influence in terms of their ability to get their followers to interact with content.
Nice feature Google, but… yeah.