James O'Neill's Blog

August 8, 2006

Not technical for once

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 5:03 pm

A few oddments that I wanted to blog: technical content, it will resume shortly.

(1) Spam (occasionally) works. I posted in how not to be read things you should do to make sure people don’t read you. I don’t think the person who mailed me a link to a marine life video had read that, but choosing a targeted alias and giving two sentences explanation of the campaign for more marine reserves in UK meant I watched the video, signed the petition and passed the message on. 

(2) You can learn from places you’d never expect. Back in 2004 “Belle De Jour – the diary of a London Call Girl” won the Guardian Newspaper’s blog of the year award. Belle’s mixture of poetic phrasing and sex won her a book deal but her identity remains a closely guarded secret. I’m might be sailing close to the wind by linking to or even mentioning a whore’s blog, but this recent post of hers is great potted guide to the human side of security. 

(3) Some people may never get “new media”.  One of my favorite lines for the TV series “Yes, Prime Minister” was when talking about some issue or other the Prime Minister says “This could be my Falkland Islands !” and  his chief civil servant, Sir Humphry replies “Yes, Prime Minister. And you could be General Galtieri”   I always think of this when I watch daft battles unfold on the Internet. And Microsoft is not immune to getting involved in these.  Somehow in the “Mike Rowe soft” case we managed to come out ahead, but we didn’t deserve to. But here are 3 examples of people who’ve come off worse.

Shortly after I started this job, it clicked that people want to do business with organizations they feel some connection with. That’s part of what blogging at Microsoft is about. Then I read the “warren-kremer-paino Vs the Maine Blogger” story. I’d never heard of US advertising agency Warren Kremer Paino, but the precis was they moved to sue a blogger called Lance Dutson because they didn’t like his take on their work for the state of Maine; dozens of bloggers from Scoble downwards got involved in the story, which ended with them backing down. Any prospective customer who searches for them now will find a host of negative items. It doesn’t help people feel a sense of connection.

Last week I heard the story of Yell.com vs Yellow Wikis. The BBC reported lawyers acting for Yell threatened Wiki site saying it was “plainly purporting to be associated with our clientand that the firm’s intellectual property was under threat”. To most viewers Yell and the Yellow wikis appear to have nothing in common apart from providing listings and the colour yellow. No one pointed out to Yell that looking like a bully is bad for business – people don’t want to connect with you, and that’s worse than the existance of another yellow site.

Latest to point the PR pistol at their own foot is one Gina Ford. Ms Ford’s lawyers wrote to the site Mumsnet beginning “We act for Ms Gina Ford, the world famous author and expert on baby care.” which suggests that she takes her self pretty seriously. But reading that she objects to ‘a posting timed at 12:36:34 on 21st July 2006, attributed to ‘morningpaper’, [which] says our client “straps babies to rockets and fires them into south Lebanon”  –  it seems to me such an accusation is so outlandish that it must be beyond the scope of defamation.

My solicitors wouldn’t call me “World Famous” but I know a bit about the Internet, and I’ll offer Gina Ford some advice, expert to expert. Working for Microsoft I know what Warren Kremer Paino should have known, and if you’re quick you’ll learn. When your work is out in the open  people will criticize – whether the work is software, advertisements or a book. Not all criticism is fair, or justified, or accurate, and some is just plain nasty. The fair needs be accepted gracefully, the inaccurate needs a response and the nasty needs to be ignored.  Ms Ford may have hired top legal experts, but the best advice have been “Go home, look at your royalty figures and forget all about it”, win or lose or withdraw, legal action will damage you. If you win and close down a site where people dislike you, more people will dislike you and they will find somewhere to say so. There is a old saying. “The Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it”, you can’t control what’s said about you, Gina, and you need to understand what happens if you try: look at what people have are posted to your book reviews on Amazon this week , the Video BBC is posting about you or ITV (under the headline Baby Guru’s Web Tantrum), or The Telegraph or Daily Mail (similar headline to ITVwill you sue them ?) do an ego-search on yourself on technorati (or Windows Live news, or Google news) and see what people are saying about you  or about the story .

THERE IS A MESSAGE HERE: treats censorship as damage and routes around it” was the 1980s and 1990s.  WEB 2.0 recognizes an attack and fights back.

Oh, and the other message here. When a story about you is turning into a train wreck, don’t let people read in The Times [THE TIMES !] that “Neither Ms Ford, her lawyers nor her publisher, Random House, returned e-mails or calls seeking comment.” 

Update This link has some very good legal information on the story, and links through to the latest from mumsnet which contains an appology from the “Rockets to Lebanon” poster which had me crying with laughter.

Tagged as Free Speech mumsnet Gina Ford Censorship

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.


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