The Cranky Canuck’s Christmas Carol

Hodson brings this holiday cheer to Nothing Serious with this very special rendition of the classic “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clark Moore.

We’ll be back with a new episode of Nothing Serious Podcast on January 8th, so until then – have a great holiday and an awesome New Year!

Stories mentioned in this episode of the Nothing Serious Podcast include:

Please Support The Kim Hodson Cremation Fundraiser

I extend my deepest condolences to my good friend and mentor Steven Hodson, who’s beloved wife Kim passed away this morning.

Kim had been struggling against cancer and several chronic conditions for many years.

Steven has been unable to work outside the home for several years due to the caring for Kim during the course of her illnesses.

Throughout this time Steven has given a lot of himself to the tech community. He’s worked on many projects, podcasts and contributed to many sites with me, and I’m sure that if you read tech online you’ve probably encountered him at some point or another.

Sara and I would like to give back and support Steven in his time of grief and ensure that Kim’s cremation expenses are not another burden on him during this difficult time.

Steven has been a mentor to myself and others online, and we would very much like to see the online community give back to someone who has given it so much over the past decade, by contributing to this fundraiser.

Facebook Ghosts

Steven Hodson of Winextra joins Daniel and Paul this week to talk about Call of Duty: Ghost, the next Xbox, Facebook, Yahoo, Flickr, Dailymotion, Google Glass, privacy, rainwater and more…

Links mentioned in this weeks Nothing Serious Podcast:

Social Media: The Vacuum Edition

I don’t know how I missed this, but Steven Hodson (my partner in crime on the WinExtra On Windows Podcast) has started recording the occasional vidcast and true to form gives his cranky views on our little online world.

The video I’ve chosen to embed is one he did recently about the” social media vacuum” and comes complete with a “special” guest appearance 😛

Also check out this video where Steven has a go at TechCrunch’s MG Siegler.

I Hate The Regurgitation And You Should Too

Dare to be differentRegurgitation of content is a fact of life within the tech blogosphere.

Steven Hodson wrote about how being doomed to see the same content on site after site  it is simply a fact of life especially within the tech blogosphere, as there simply isn’t enough news to go around.

We might think that there is an incredible amount of news and information that is flowing through our lives on a daily bases what with blogs, 24 hour news channels and Twitter news flashes; however the reality is much different. For all the apparent flood we actually have very little news – especially in the tech sector – truly happening in any given day or week – it just seems like we do.

It’s a numbers game. Too little news and far to many people reporting on it. Such is life. It affects bloggers and it affects main stream media  in much the same way.

We don’t complain when we see the same story reported on 4 different news channels because we have an expectation that their purpose is to report the news. If there is a breaking story or a major event it is their job to report it. We don’t complain about it, in fact, I’ve been guilty of hopping between news channels in order to see different sides of the story as it is being reported.

Each stations has it’s own style, it’s own values and, lets be honest, it’s own agenda and we accept that these things are part and parcel of their reporting of the news. It’s why different news networks appeal to different demographics.

Yet, in the blogosphere, specifically the tech blogosphere, this multiplicity of reporting is often looked upon as a bad thing. Why is that?

I think it has got nothing to do with the news itself, or the repetition, but to do with the effort (or more accurately, the lack thereof) applied by bloggers when they report a story.

I’ve said it time and time again, bloggers are not journalists. We like to play at being journalists but 99.99% of us lack the tenacity, drive, research skills, motivation and pay check to get off our asses and ever do one tenth of the work that it requires to be a journalist.

We aspire.

Aspiration is a good thing. Bettering ourselves is a good thing. Trying to improve and provide quality and service is a good thing.

You know what else is a good thing? A boss or an editor.

Having someone over you who will tell you to your face that you are a talentless hack without the skills to write descent coverage of a story, is a good thing.

Having someone who will tell you that your approach is nothing more than copy & paste and if that’s what you want to do, then he has a crap load of data entry that needs finishing, is a good thing.

Having  someone who tell you that you are unable to string a coherent sentence together and handing you a McDonalds application form, is a good thing.

Having someone who is qualified to make the call, tell you that you write with all the personality of concrete block, is a good thing.

You won’t find these things in the blogosphere. Well, not unless one of the trolls has a coherent and compassionate moment.

Starting out as a blogger you’re likely only to be read by friends and family. Lets be honest, even if you ask them, they’re not likely to critique your properly.

Most bloggers will never get beyond the friends and family stage and those that do stick it out long enough are likely those that become part of the circle-jerk association.

Sorry, I meant “mutual appreciation society”. You know, the social media crowd, who speak no evil and wouldn’t dare criticize you to your face if it was the only thing that could save your life. The people who drive traffic to each other and never unsubscribe from obviously crap blogs because it would be rude. They don’t want to hurt each others feelings. The hippies of web two point, whatever the heck we’re at now? 2.0, 4.0?

Then we have the few talented people who do put in the effort. That tiny percentile. Mostly it is their reports that are being regurgitated.

Their content is regurgitated by legions of clones aspiring fan-boys writers with heads full of  dreams of becoming the next rich a-list blogger (which is akin to believing in Santa Claus), but without the talent, or even the determination to put their own spin on things.

Post are pumped out relentlessly by the copy & paste merchants who are actually self absorbed, or delusional (or both) enough, that they believe they are “creating content” rather than aggregating and devaluing content which was created or reported by those who have put in the effort.

It is the effort that adds value. It is the opinion that adds value. The editorial content that adds value.

That is what still sells newspapers. Not the news reported. If you wanted the news, you’d be online and have it hours, sometimes days, before it can create ink stains on your fingers.

It is the effort that a blogger puts in to formulate their own opinion coupled with their ability to articulate that opinion in a cohesive and passionate way that sets them apart from the crowd.

I hate the regurgitation and until we can find a way to stop talentless or lazy bloggers from every hitting the publish button, I will continue to hate the regurgitation.

If we can figure that out, we may still have more bloggers than news, but at least those that remain will be expressing an opinion worth reading, even if the news they are reporting is the same.

Has Google Gone A Step Too Far By Forcing Buzz On Users?

I know Google desperately want people to use Google Buzz, but as Steven Hodson pointed out, growth of the network will always be limited by the fact that you have to have a Gmail account in order to use the service.

Google Buzz is a clever trap, but a trap all the same. It is the hunk of cheese to get more people using Gmail which in turn locks users into Google even more.

Google, in it’s attempts to ensure adoption have taken the kind of  step that hasn’t been seen since the Microsoft of the 90’s and actually forced all Gmail account holders into being users regardless of whether they want to or not.

As Mark Davidson said on Facebook earlier tonight:

I’m not sure why but I’m bothered by Buzz. I don’t like it, I don’t want it. But I have it. Sure I don’t have to us it. I think maybe it’s because for the first time, Google has forced a web tool on me. I’ve been using Gmail since 2004. If I love Gmail, and I do, I’m forced to have Buzz. I’m about 10 minutes away from …re-installing MS Office so I can use Gmail as a relay for Outlook again. You know what I like? Choice. That’s what got me using Google web tools in the first place. Today is the first day, I’ve ever viewed Google in the same light as I viewed Microsoft in the mid-nineties.

It’s this kind of move that could result in a temporary boost for Gmail and Googles other services, but as I’ve already seen tonight people are complaining about things like unremoveable messages in their inbox, and of course the pre-existing faults caused by Googles need to have a universal address book and not allow you to delete contacts from one Google service without deleting them on all.

This forced use could ultimately be detrimental to Gmail as users who don’t want an intrusive social network clogging up their inbox choose to go to less crowded and more traditional email systems. Yes, you can stop Buzz features from appearing in your inbox after the fact but once you are in, you’re in.

As I’ve said before, the right tool for the right job, and morphing Gmail into a full featured social network may stop it being a tool of productivity and turn it into another Facebook/Twitter timewaster.

Google Buzz is a clever trap, but a trap all the same. It is the hunk of cheese to get more people using GMail which in turn locks users into Google even more.

How Do You Gauge Credibility?

Trust me!
Trust me!

An interesting question was inadvertently raised by @SabrinaDent (Sabrinas blog) earlier when responding on Twitter to my post “The FCC, TSA, @MyBottlesUp And Why Bloggers Can’t Be Trusted”.

How do you judge credibility online?

Credible bloggers are taken plenty seriously – is an example. This woman has no credibility and never built any.

How do you judge the credibility of someone you’ve never heard of?

It’s relatively easy to judge the credibility of someone you’ve been following online for a long time. You get to know them, get a feel for them and you usually can see them being mentioned by other people who you also associate with online.

If you’re part of the same community you’ll see their name appear in the same forums, see other people linking to them and mentioning them and generally they become known to you by word of mouth.

The more you see someone mentioned (in a positive light) and the more you see people you know interacting with them the more likely you are to take them as a credible source.

The best gauge of credibility for me is the interaction of my peers. I tend to give a lot of weight to the those who have the ear and attention of my peers.

It’s a very different story when you don’t know the person and don’t move in the same circles. So how do we judge?

Well, you could do a search on the person and see what other people are saying or read through multiple posts on their blog and try and get a feel for them, but seriously who ever does that. Most of us are just clicking through to something that caught our eye and moving on, with perhaps a quick press of the retweet button.

The sad fact of the matter is that the internet has a sheep mentality. People will follow you just because other people are. It has a knock on effect and is something that bloggers (as one example) have been using for the longest time to get you to subscribe to them.

Almost every blogger proudly displays their RSS subscriber count and sometimes their email subscriber count. The reason for doing this is simple. It’s like saying : “Hey look at me, I have 2000 followers, you should follow me too” and sadly enough, for a lot of people that is enough.

Sometimes you will have more information to go on. A good design helps to put us at ease as it makes us feel like someone is at least being diligent and doing their housework with regards to their blog!

On Twitter a high follower to following ratio gives a good impression as it eases suspicion that the user may be a spammer and that other people are paying attention to them.

A good Pagerank and a good Alexa rank are indicators that people may be linking to them and that their traffic is descent which reinforces the idea that they are credible, but at the end of the day they are all only indicators in a situation where most of us make a snap decision about credibility.

I’ve met some high profile bloggers in my time who appear to be very credible but in real life I don’t think I would trust them to organize dinner never mind consult or run a business. There are others like Steven Hodson, who could blog that the moon had been stolen by little green men and I probably wouldn’t go to the window to look out and check, I’d just take him at his word because since I’ve known him he’s proven to be sincere, trustworthy, cranky and credible.

So how do we judge if someone is credible or not! Most of us have neither the desire nor time to really dig into the details of someone online before deciding to retweet their post. Most of us make this snap decision many times a day?

What indicators do you use to judge if a post or blogger is credible in what they say? Or how about a twitter user, especially one with a blog?

FTC Guidelines : They’re Not About YOUR Blog!

All your blogs...
All your blogs...

I watched the news surface yesterday about the FTC’s guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials and how they now affect bloggers.

I read the entire 81 page document (it’s a bit of a drag to read but I recommend that you do), shrugged my shoulders and moved on. I decided to stay out of the inevitable shit storm that I knew the blogosphere would make of this and return to my navel gazing. After all, I’ve been disclosing since early 2007.

I’m sure that the most excited I got was to tell Sara: “The only people who will complain about this are people with something to hide”. I may or may not have been correct.

My feed reader is full of posts (which I did not read) about the guidelines today. My twitter stream is seeing more than a few mentions and as far as I can see the general reaction either “meh” or “oh hell no… we’re all doomed!”.

Except of course for my good friend Steven Hodson. His Canadian sensibilities are so tightly wound up by this that his man spuds must be pushing past his tonsils at this point. According to Steven the FTC guidelines are seven shades of wrong, unfair and make us bloggers out to be “scumbags”.

Apparently I am also a “fuckwad” because I think these guidelines are actually good for the blogosphere and the internet as a whole.

As this misguided Irishman sees it the objections to the FTC guidelines are as follows

  • Bloggers shouldn’t be subject to these guidelines because traditional media outlets appear not be
  • Our readers are smart enough to know if we’re hawking shite because they know us and they’re smart.
  • Oh yes, did I mention that the traditional media outlets don’t have to!

Okay, where to begin.

The FCC guidelines are about more than bloggers. They cover all “new media” users. That means, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, everywhere. Basically if it’s online and you’re not a “proper” journo, this affects you.

The biggest flaw in the logic of those claiming that these guidelines are a bad thing lies in the belief that it is about bloggers, or more specifically you as a specific blogger. It’s not! It’s about search engines and search results.

It doesn’t matter if your readership can spot that you have an apparent “mystery change in attitude” about a product and know you’re suffering from freebie induced verbal diarrhea. Your readers, who on the whole I seriously doubt are not smart enough to notice, unless you became a shill on every product review (1 in 10 could just be called a bad call), are not the people these guidelines are designed to protect.

Look at the stats of your blog and see where the vast majority of you traffic comes from. Go on, I’ll wait….

Just to state the blindingly obvious, the vast majority of your traffic comes from search engines like Google. Bloggers also get a lot of traffic from social networks where the person clicking through may be clicking on a retweet or a forward  and have no idea who the heck you are. Damn, they wouldn’t even care if you died 5 minutes after hitting the post button, they’re just interested in scanning your review, endorsement or otherwise of a product.

Those people coming from Google and Twitter have no idea if you’re affiliated with a company, got paid for your review or accepted a blowjob in order to write 100 glowing words. They don’t know you or your reputation.

Search engine results can also be polluted. It’s all to easy for a company to solicit a 1000 reviews from high profile bloggers, or 10000 reviews from “average bloggers” or even more from Z list bloggers like myself.

This is common place behaviour. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it isn’t.

Starting to see how this is not just about you as a blogger and your readership? It’s about large numbers of bloggers and new media users combined with all their readerships and when you think of it that way, the FTC guidelines start to make a lot of sense.

Bloggers should be incredibly happy about these guidelines because they will help protect the impartiality of our beloved internet.

Addressing the issue of traditional media, according to the FTC (page 47):

The Commission acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure requirements than reviewers in traditional media. In general, under usual circumstances, the Commission does not consider reviews published in traditional media (i.e., where a newspaper, magazine, or television or radio station with independent editorial responsibility assigns an employee to review various products or services as part of his or her official duties, and then publishes those reviews) to be sponsored advertising messages. Accordingly, such reviews are not “endorsements” within the meaning of the Guides.100 Under these circumstances, the Commission believes, knowing whether the media entity that published the review paid for the item in question would not affect the weight consumers give to the reviewer’s statements.

As such their point is sound. There is a difference between being paid to review products where that is known and accepted by the audience from the get go and, say, reviewing a new Xbox 360 game when an impoverished blogger may not have been able to afford the game themselves.

There is a fundamental difference between your actual job being paid to review things for a traditional media outlet, and a blogger who doesn’t get paid reviewing a freebie or being paid to review a product.

There is a massive difference in expectation. There is  simply no way to know for the average visitor landing on a blog from a search engine, what the bloggers position is without disclosure.

It is perhaps this difference between traditional media outlets and bloggers that make these guidelines so beneficial for the blogosphere and the internet as a whole.

We now have a proper platform with which to make ourselves stand out from the shills. Those of us that disclose will carry more weight and authority. Folks that are shills can now be properly called out and scandalized (perhaps not the kind of fodder the blogosphere needs but think of the posts) and that may help cull the crap.

We can also stand apart and above from our traditional media brethren, and rather than this being a free pass for them, we can now criticize them and their behaviour, their nondisclosure and self serving interests and bring pressure to bear for positive change.

We can also, finally, bring some respectability to the cesspool of the blogosphere which is overpopulated by self serving marketers and folks out to make a quick buck under the guise of blogging. The shit might finally sink and the cream may rise to the top.

So, why the problem with disclosing? It’s not about serving ourselves, it’s about serving the wider internet. Focusing on your own blog is just self-centered and shows you’re missing the bigger picture.