Category Archives: Ponderings

Nothing Lasts Forever

An article published today on The Guardian site declares that ‘Facebook is done’. I tend to agree. I assume that I’m pretty much Facebook’s target market: in my 20s, with some disposable income, web-savvy and all the other shit that makes me appealing to those oh-so-lucrative advertisers.

The trouble is, I’ve stopped using it. It’s moved from being a space where it was cool to catch up with people I haven’t seen for years, without having to make the commitment of giving them my mobile number, to a space where only the people I accepted as friends because it felt too rude not to are doing or saying anything. This makes my desire to log in and make the effort to do anything in that space pretty much non-exisistent.

For me, it started with the change of the news feed to the status stream that it is now. Personally, I think Facebook misconstrued the meaning and success of twitter here. The delight of twitter is that I can read a stream of thoughts, messages, interesting links and other titbits from people who I don’t know, who I probably will never know, and who don’t know me. It opens up my world from a closed community to a vast sphere of influence, that I can dip in and out of as I choose. The fundamental principle of Facebook, however, is that it connects you to people you already know. Just because I know them, doesn’t mean I want to know what they’re doing, reading, or thinking every second of the day.

In twitter, I can head out of the realms of the people I’m following and go search for tags, trending topics, or names. In Facebook, I can’t do that. I’m locked down to reading a constant flow of mundane garbage from someone I might have sat 2 desks down from in Science lessons 15 years ago.

As Phoebe Connelly rightly says in her Guardian article though, the next big thing is always round the corner. What strikes me is the pervading sense of surprise across the web – and sometimes even into mainstream media – when something that was cool online becomes, well, uncool.

No one was surprised when Channel 4 announced in August that they were canning Big Brother. Something that was cool on TV 10 years ago, no longer is. Similarly, books don’t stay at the top of the bestseller list forever, and the number 1 selling toy at Christmas one year is highly unlikely to be the same the following year.

Even Vanilla Ice was cool once

Even Vanilla Ice was cool once

Tastes, fashion, budgets, and interests change – and why wouldn’t those changes apply to our online world any less than to our offline world? OK, so we might not pay cold hard cash for our online habits like a Facebook account or news consumption, but we do pay in time and effort. And if we don’t feel like we’re getting our money’s worth, then we’ll head off somewhere else. It’s just human nature, isn’t it?


Raccoons and Windscreens

There has been much written – and rightly so – about how ‘suppliers’, or agencies, should treat their clients. Some is serious, some is tongue in cheek, but all have an important message about how to be successful in business, when your business is delivering something to another business.

This success becomes harder when what you’re delivering is intangible. You can’t, for example, rock up with a ten ton weight of websites, neatly boxed up with a delivery note and appended invoice. It’s even harder when the client doesn’t understand what they’ve asked you to deliver. There may be grand, aspirational references to using an open source CMS in their requirements document (if you’re lucky enough to get one) but ask for a definition of ‘open source’, or indeed what CMS actually stands for, and the chances are a blank look of panic will flit across their face, followed by some coughing, spluttering and defensive mumbling about ‘IT’.

That’s fine though – you don’t want to know the ins and outs of how to rescue raccoons from near extinction in urban environments, nor the finer details of how to design a multi-storey car park. And by the same token, your clients don’t need to know precisely how a CMS is built, the minutiae of setting up a disaster recovery plan on AWS, or the exact combination of caffeine, nicotine and sugar that gets your most talented developers out of bed in the morning.

Free Raccoon

© CST 13

What they do need to do, however, is respect the fact that *you* know how to do all of these things, let you get on and do it, and show you some respect while you’re getting on and doing it. I never cease to be amazed by clients who go and search for a ‘specialist agency’ – presumably because they have a specialism and expertise to offer – and then promptly spend the entire project overruling and second-guessing the decisions made by those specialists.

Think about it this way: I don’t take my car in for an MOT and then tell the mechanic what he does and doesn’t need to do to fix it. Or, worse, randomly take things off the list of things that need fixing to bring it within my budget; invariably these are the big things too, because they’re the most expensive. By the end of the exercise my car may no longer have an engine, but boy-oh-boy is the windscreen clean and shiny. (That’s the bit my boss is going to see, so of course it has to look the best…)

Absolutely, there is truth in the epithet that the customer is always right. They’re paying the bills and they can choose what to spend their money on. I very strongly believe though that a good working relationship, where the engine -vs- a clean windscreen conversation can happen in a frank, open and honest environment, is just as much fostered by the client as by the agency. It’s about having a mutual respect and understanding for each other’s position and expertise, being prepared to listen to those positions, and deciding together what is the best option for meeting the client’s objectives.

If the client expects to be able to shout ‘JUMP!’ and demands an immediate response of ‘How high, guv’nor?’ from their suppliers, then the end result be will a breakfast of half-thought through ideas that doesn’t meet any of the original objectives (if, indeed, any objectives were set in the first place).

In fact, in the next financial year, shiny new budget grasped tightly in their clenched paw, I can guarantee you that the client will be sending out ITTs all over the place… Yep, you guessed it – with the key aim of fixing everything not done ‘properly’ by the original agency the first time around.