Monday, April 30

Wanted: one editorial producer passionate about cars

Ford GT at Perth Motor Show by James086

I'm having a little trouble finding the right person for a new position on my team at If you, or someone you know, fits the following description, please apply via this job ad.


- alan

Company: CARSguide
Job Title: Content Producer
Description: is Australia's fastest growing automotive website and it comes with the backing of more than 100 metropolitan, suburban and regional News Limited newspapers.

I have a vacancy for a Content Producer who will be responsible for maintaining and optimising the website to ensure the content is lively and up to date.

Reporting to the Editor, your responsibilities will include:

* Ensuring website is updated with stories and photos from News Limited newspapers

* Liaise with News Limited motoring editors to receive pictures and appropriate stories etc.

* Suggest improvements where necessary for the CMS.

* “Produce” stories to maximise user flow-through on the site.

* Work closely with the editor and product staff on special event sites e.g. the Australian International Motor Show site.

* Update video, multimedia, pictures, mobile content, blogs and other content as necessary

To be successful in this position, you need solid HTML skills, a nose for news, excellent written skills, a smattering of photoshop and the ability to build relationships with internal and external stakeholders. Your attention to detail, strict adherence to deadlines and experience in building websites will put you at a distinct advantage.

Sorry, Australian residency required

Friday, April 27

Broadband bandwidth leapfrog leaves us behind again

I haven't seen a message like this one for a long time - warning me that I don't have a good enough broadband connection to get a good viewing experience. It's particularly worrying when this isn't some high-tech demonstration of bleeding-edge HD vision online. It's just a video review of a new Kodak printer by guru consumer tech columnist Walter Mossberg.
It's particularly depressing when you realise that I'm sitting on a corporate internet connection that says has a connection speed about twice as fast as the average Australian cable connection, which in turn is faster than the average Australian ADSL connection, which is what the average Australian is actually stuck with.

I wish!
It's a fact of life as immutable as gravity that Australia remains hampered by a reactive, defensive, greedy and inefficient Telstra. We're still hampered by Telstra because we're led by governments with a maximum four year window on the world, when planning for future technology requires a 10 or even 20 year perspective.
Since Optus/Telstra cable and ADSL started rolling out Australians (in urban areas, at least) have experienced a massive increase in their average connection speed, but starting from a very low base, and at the same time as the US, Europe and Asia have experienced an increase that was greater still.
For the past five years or so, urban Australians on ADSL or cable haven't been troubled much by jittery, jumpy streams, or by content that nannies us like Mossberg's by warning us not to even launch the video. But if the Mossberg video warning is a sign of anything, it's that the world has moved on much faster than we have, and we may be about to sink back into the kind of second-world, arms-length relationship with overseas web content we used to suffer from back in the '80s and '90s.
I remember trying to produce a knock-off of (dead now but there's a potted history on CNet) for Australian audiences on behalf of MSN Australia, in 1996 (or so.) An online video reality-style soap opera, was something of a pre-cursor to Big Brother, in that the cast were all sharing a house and the video was shot in wobblycam over-the-shoulder reality style, although it had to be scripted and acted, if for no other reason that limited processing power made video editing and encoding so time-consuming and costly.
Our knock-off, "Friday's Beach," was almost impossible to produce. While many US viewers enjoyed TheSpot at 640x480 and 20fps, the very best we could manage, even with the cooperation of Microsoft and Telstra (used to be partners in those days) was a barely viewable 320x240 and 10-15fps - the kind of stuttervision you'd be disappointed to find in a mobile phone these days. We were forced to supplement the video content with a separately-recorded audio 'radio show' (a precursor of the podcast! ha!) as well as still photos and text diary versions of the narrative for each of the cast. That way, if you were unable to watch the video, or unable to understand it if you could get it to play at all, you could at least participate in some fashion.
Needless to say, there was no way Friday's Beach was ever going to garner a commercial-sized audience, or ever pay for its own production costs. Only one thing kept the project alive: despite all the press hype received in Australia about being the future of entertainment, nobody in Australia could really watch it. So if you were interested in experiencing the future of visual entertainment in Australia at the time, you had to make do with Friday's Beach.
How depressing that we're headed that way again; that once again we'll be the poor cousins of the online world. Particularly so since in this decade, the internet really is the entertainment, education and business platform we hoped it might be in the '90s, and this time we won't just be missing out on watching six teenagers suffering broken hearts and complaining about their homework. This time it's going to have a material effect on our culture, our access to the world, and even the only thing the current government actually cares about: the economy. Horror!

Tuesday, April 24

Don't let your finances freak you out

This button at the bottom of pages on takes you to a nice montage of puppy or kitten photos from flickr anytime you get too stressed wrangling with your personal finances. Nice touch.

Frankly my dears, I'm totally over web 2.0 social networking startups that offer yet another way to zap mindless, thoughtless crap to lists of 'buddies' you don't actually know, who are only there because they invited you so they could build their own buddy list bigger than anyone else's. (from henceforth, to be referred to generically as I'm no longer impressed that you can zap the crap via text, html, audio, video or flash, and it doesn't matter if you can do it from your desktop, your mobile and your set-top box. At the end of the day, you're still zapping crap to each other, and when the market settles down, FlirstSpace social networks come in at a very low CPM.

So how many web 2.0 startup social networks do you know that are building social networks more valuable than FlirtSpace? Hell, I can only think of one - - and I'm happy to say they appear to be doing a great job of building a monetisable audience by helping people manage their personal finances better.

I'm still wrangling more with how wesabe works than wrangling with my personal finances, but that seems mainly to do with the braindeadedness of Australian banks and their general attitude that it's their financial information, not mine.

Otherwise, so far, I'd say wesabe is a real hit for quickly and easily getting an overview of where your spending and income is at. It also offers a nice slice of social community support, with tips and hints from other users on how to do a better job of managing your financial affairs. Early days yet and they still need to build a critical mass of advice from their users, but already I'm impressed by the quality of some of the tips and breadth of coverage.

Customer support from wesabe is prompt and personal, and the company's management team have to be about the most accessible startup founders I've ever had the pleasure of talking with. Interested to see how that scales as the business grows, but kudos for making such a great start on building a relationship with your customers.

I expect most of wesabe's users are in the US, so features like "average spent on [tag] by all wesabe users last month" would probably be of more use to US users (or users in the Bay Area perhaps!).

I think there's real potential in wesabe for a site that is self-powered by users who find they get as much benefit from being a wesabe member as they get by contributing to it.

I'd much rather see people social networking on wesabe than on myspace. It's probably too late to escape the coming consumer credit crash depression, but a community like wesabe, broadly distributed, could greatly lift the financial awareness and fiscal performance of consumers everywhere. That's got to be a good thing.

Monday, April 23

The hardest way to make mashed potatoes

I used to work with Andrew Levy at Yahoo! before he went off to become a French chef of the Cordon Bleu variety. This lad was born to cook. One night he combined some fresh salmon fillets with whatever was in my fridge at the time and even then it blew us all away.

Now his new cooking blog sees him sharing some recipes and cooking tips. But don't expect Andrew's definition of "easy" to match up with yours. I mean, take a look at how he starts off making mashed potatoes...

Put the whole, unpeeled potatoes on the baking sheet and put in the oven until completely cooked through. Note: Many people will tell you to boil your potatoes. This will work faster, but not better, because good mash relies on dry potatoes. If you must boil them, peel them first, and when they’re cooked through, put them on a baking sheet and fully dry them in a warm oven before mashing them.

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Clipmarks is first vital step

I'd settle for Clipmarks correctly displaying the text I'd clipped in the colours I'd chosen for the font and the background, which were not green on grey, lemme tell you. But at least now it's relatively readable...
clipped from
Clipmarks is the first vital step towards the collaborative creation of a new level of metaknowledge enabling people to better understand the big picture. The next step is to use multifaceted taxonomies as the intellectual tools for collecting and organising the evidence on which metaknowledge is based.
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Dishonesty is the second-best policy

Oliver is right, clipmarks are really hard to read when I use the default green text on white background style. However, the default text style is about all Clipmarks does wrong when it comes to providing a quick and simple way to quote other web pages on your own blog and saving them as bookmarks for later reference.

Here's some great George Carlin quotations, lifted straight from another Clipmarks user:
Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.
I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.
Honesty may be the best policy, but it's important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.
If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.
The very existence of flamethrowers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, "You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done."
Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.
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Sunday, April 22

Tipping point #2: online eclipses newspapers in UK

Ben Metcalfe points out that it's really big news how online advertising revenues have overtaken newspaper advertising revenues in the UK. The time has come for newspaper publishers to plan for the future... not to use the internet to defend their newspaper franchise, but plan to migrate to online and spin-down the printing press.
clipped from

What’s important is that newspapers finally newspapers can begin to ‘move their core focus’ over to Internet. That’s if they have the balls - but the finance people should now be armed with the relevant figures to help them find their balls.

The one issue no one seems to be talking about is whether the combined spend has changed. Is it simply a shift in existing revenues, or has online suddenly found new advertising budget (or newspapers lost out on evaporated budget). That’s important to think about - especially with the CraigsList factor - where advertising is free.

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Friday, April 20

What the? I'm an employee again?

Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

SURPRISE! Today I started a new job: Editor and Social Media Manager for CARSguide. A real job, with super and holiday pay, for a real company, where someone else collects the mail and remembers to pay the utility bills. Also a real company with paperwork, with some processes that don't yet make sense to me, with a payroll dept and an IT dept and a photo ID card.

Why would I go and get a real job, after spending the last few years in Web 2.0 startups? And why CARSguide, since it appears to be a very Web 1.0 business? (The 'Listings 1.0' model of "take the print content we already have and put it on a web page"?) It may not even be News Digital Media's highest-profile online business (see if you can find the network distribution CARSguide currently has on

Several related questions, for which there are several related answers (and at this point, if you don't give a cobbler's about my career change, I perfectly understand - here's a more entertaining post from Ben Barren, with bonus eye-candy. You're excused.)

Here's my thinking:

I just love database-driven businesses. I love all the goodness you can derive from great big thick wads of data, whether the data is editorial content, user behaviour, shared bookmarks, or classifieds listings. I worked at Sidewalk for the promise of building a massive database of lifestyle reviews. I worked at Yahoo! because of its unique and massive hand-built web directories and all those consumers generating search results. I co-founded HomeScreen because it was a chance to work with big databases of DVD product data, metadata (such as reviews and recommendations) and user behaviour.

Let me count the ways I love big databases. They are usually built with the cooperation of big online audiences, and if they work as they should, they generate network effects, provide 10,000-foot views of online ecosystems, and are one of the few content types that are still worth something when it comes to strike a distribution, licensing or sales deal.

Unfortunately, the Australian market doesn't have a lot of opportunities for big database-driven online businesses. In online listings, some of the key spaces are already a foregone conclusion - a betting man wouldn't put his money on your chances of dislodging AdWords, Yellow Pages, Seek, or Largely still under the radar, the car listings market is still very winnable for a business that has a few outside-the-box ideas up their sleeves. Yes, we think we have some outside-the-box ideas at CARSguide; no, I'm not going to tell you what they are.

It's rather 'startup-ish' at CARSguide. More startupish than you'd expect for a big online media company like the parent. It's not goofy or whacky, (thankfully) and there's no Aeron chairs (it's OK, I have my own, salvaged from Web 1.0.) But there's a new CEO with a fresh perspective, lots of new and open hires, big plans still at the whiteboard stage, and a lot of space between where we are now and where our goals have been set.

Yet, unlike a startup, we also have a major media company backing us; so we have a real marketing budget, great content in the pipes, the ability to hire the people we need, and a network for distribution. It will also be nice to spend some time in a business where there are already other people pick up the mail, pay the bills, and clean out the fridge.

I also love editorial content. I started my career as a writer, and I still love to write (poorly) every day. This role gives me the opportunity to be an editor again. Today, I got to tighten a few paragraphs here and there, craft a caption or two... oooh, it feels so good to whip out my Strunk again.

Social Media is, like, soooo HOT right now. Yes, obviously when you have a buzzphrase like "social media" in your job title it's like owning a Porsche 911 - even pedestrians catching a glimpse of you assume you're an utter wanker. But as any 911 driver will go on about for hours and hours if you let him (it's invariably a him); even when he pops out on a supermarket run, he's having arguably the best driving experience known to mankind. It eases the pain of appearing to be such a wanker.

I'm prepared to wear the odd raised eyebrow, the occasional snicker out of earshot, and I'm sure those who know me assume I'm already comfortable with being a wanker. As its right there in my job title I'll need to take the fall if it all goes horribly pear-shaped in the end, but I believe CARSguide has an opportunity to do some innovative things in the social media space.

Oh, boy, do I love cars. I can bore you silly about writing off my first car (a yellow Mini S 1275, since you didn't ask) on my way back to school after passing my driving test. There was a stop sign, but I was sure I could beat that milk truck, until I didn't. About the character-building heck of being a Leyland Marina owner, or the joy of owning a custom Bedford van, a Peugeot 306 GTi or a Mini Cooper S Convertible.

Mini Cooper S Convertible

Thursday, April 19

great moments in the history of technical writing

great moments in technical manual history
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

Caught this great example at the vintage toy and railway museum in Leura. Those double underlines were typed in manually, you couldn't just select the text and then select 'double underline' from the Style menu. That can only spell "A-S-S-H-O-L-E". I had housemates like this, though usually they were mostly going on about how I'd eaten their cheese when it was clearly labelled 'theirs'.

This is such a great example of "technical writing as passive-aggression." One of the most common motivations for new part-time technical writers is the "I'm sick of you guys messing with my stuff!" The passive aggression comes in when you try and disguise your "leave my stuff alone" message in a "care and maintenance of my stuff" set of guidelines.

The great irony of all passive-aggressive technical writing is that it exposes the very agenda the author is trying to hide. In this example the author starts off by claiming that the 'fridge has been installed for the 'convenience' of railway employees. However, it only takes a few more lines before it becomes clear that the author is heartily sick of employees treating the 'fridge like it is there for their convenience.

Heaven forbid that an employee should try to employ any initiative should the 'fridge go on the fritz, as 'fridges invariably do. The notice makes it sound like you'll lose your job and possibly your head if you so much as nudge the thermostat, much less attempt to make the thing work properly.

Imagine a vast state rail network, its staff tea rooms all slightly stinky from the frozen/rotten contents of un-tweaked or broken-down 'fridges, thanks to people doing what they've been commanded to do here.

Forbidding employees from using their initiative, common sense and improvisation is the hallmark of the passive aggressive organisational culture. If you find yourself in such an organisation, don't whatever you do complain in person. Instead, write up a notice of your own and pin it up above your desk.

A good way to start would be something like (all caps and double-underlined, mind you): "NOTICE: The following passive-aggressive crap will no longer be tolerated at this desk..."

Wednesday, April 18

Bluepulse starts up the marketing engine

I've always maintained that Bluepulse would make an awesome platform for promoting youth-oriented entertainment artists to a worldwide audience. Now we're about to see if I was right, with this decision by SonyBMG to try Bluepulse as a launch platform for Avril Lavigne's new album. More from the Bluepulseblog:

Since busting onto the global music scene in 2002, Avril Lavigne has been rocking her way onto the nanos of tens of millions of fans around the World, so you can imagine how stoked we all are to welcome her into the bluepulse community!

As part of the launch of her new album, The Best Damn Thing, Avril now has her very own Place on bluepulse. We’ve added a couple of custom features for her, it includes a biography, info about the album and her amazing career, photos and videos, including one for Avril TV. Add Avril as a friend to get her latest news and to send her fan mail.

To check out Avrils Place on bluepulse, just go to Find Friends and search for Avril by username, or if you’re new to bluepulse you can add her as a friend by going to (on your phone or computer).

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Wednesday, April 4

MySpace shows just how much it cares about kids

MySpace shows it cares about kids
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) tech charity initiative has a new competitor from the most unlikely of places - Rupert Murdoch's MySpace, in conjunction with... gee... well, it seems to be I-Deal Direct, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois, operating under the domain name of

Previously not very well known in charitable circles, it seems that I-Deal Direct is using News Corp's global youth MySpace audience to help supply free laptops to Australian children previously only able to login to their MySpace homepage via a shared family PC, a PC at school, or perhaps a PC at their local library.

The ad makes it seem like only the one millionth Australian visitor to the MySpace homepage will be given a free laptop, but it seems like I-Deal Direct has since massively broadened the offer to include every young Australian who visits MySpace, since the ad appears again and again, on every MySpace account I created in my testing.

In fact, not content with providing a free laptop to every young Australian, I discovered upon clicking-thru (I will delete my cookies) that I-Deal Direct is also going to supply them with free big-screen LCD or plasma TVs. That's a laptop, and a free big-screen TV, for every Aussie kid who clicks on the ad... hmm...

When will this extraordinary altruism end, I hear you ask? Well, it would be more accurate to ask: when will this extraordinary altruism begin?

Because of course, reading the fine print on the landing pages, I-Deal Direct is engaged in shady harvesting of email addresses and demographic information.

While stating you need to be 18 or over to participate in its 'program', I-Deal Direct leaves that checkbox ticked so you don't have to untick it, and then when it captures all your name and address details, doesn't include birthdates after 1989, so there's no way you could tell them you were under-age if you wanted to. Click on from there and you are presented with a seemingly endless scrolling page of opt-in and opt-out offers from hundreds of different marketers. It seems like I-Deal Direct has aggregated every online offer-based affiliate marketing program in existence and is intent upon walking you through them in succession (including (I add with some considerable embarassment and annoyance) an offer for Quickflix, an online DVD rental business of which I am a shareholder.)

Click 'submit' on one and the page refreshes to introduce another offer. I lost count of the pages I clicked through. And when I tried to leave, a bunch of pop-up and pop-under windows tried to dissuade me with just one more (and then just one more) unmissable offer. Who else but a teenage kid is likely to keep entering in their details, those of their friends and family, in the vain hope of qualifying for some of the free stuff they saw in the ad on MySpace?

I don't mean to pick on I-Deal Direct. After all, there is a sucker born every minute, and this is certainly not the only shonky marketing data collection agency marketing online. It's just that I'd like to be more certain that I-Deal Direct were waiting until the suckers were over 18 if they weren't using MySpace so prominently.

And I'm more than a little disappointed with MySpace and News Corp. You'd never expect to see a bottom-feeder advertiser like this on the homepage of or for a variety of reasons - it cheapens the masthead brand, risks the relationship with the consumer, and lowers your apparent CPM amongst other marketers. It also makes you look just plain shoddy.

If it's too shonky for Australian adults, we should definitely not be seeing this kind of 'scamarketer' on MySpace - the largest single online destination for Australian kids. If I were a premium youth brand marketer, I wouldn't want my brand anywhere near this on MySpace.

Excuse me, I need to go wash my hands and delete my cookies.

AppleTV arrives at last

AppleTV arrives at last
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

It's been quite a saga, but finally Apple Store's courier and I happened to be in the same place, at the same time.

Even on the fourth delivery, it was a close thing. I'd spent all day at home waiting, but of course, it was when I finally absolutely had to leave home that the courier approached. As the courier pulled up, I was parking my car (having sprinted 2km to the Subaru service outlet to pick up the Forester, leaving a pleading note for the courier on my front porch.) It's like Apple instructs the courier company to wait around the corner in hiding and only approach the delivery address when the customer is definitely gone from the premises.

Will my AppleTV be cool? Will the media connection be as laggy and droppy as iTunes playback has been over an Airport Express? All these questions and more will be answered when my hi-fi geek guy comes around to install it for me (a) because it doesn't come with any cables; and (b) I'm scared of touching the back of the Rotel multi-function tuner/amp thingy the hi-fi guy installed in my cupboard. It has way too many hot wires back there, and not enough room to poke your head in, meaning cabling new stuff in is something you have to do by touch.

I'm way too likely to try and plug the AppleTV into something carrying too many amps while touching something conductive. You may scoff, but I have the burn scars to prove it.

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