Malleable Musings

November 26, 2011


Filed under: Tools — Tags: , , — Brendan @ 1:16 am

Recently I’ve been working on Stage 1 of the Course Data Programme which was about determining whether we can implement XCRI-CAP, the eXchanging Course Related Information – Course Advertising Protocol.

As background JISC gave £10,000 each to 58 Universities, 35 Colleges and 2 Institutes to undertake a Self-Assessment Framework about their state of readiness to publish XCRI-CAP XML feeds. Their hope was that around 80 institutions will progress to Stage 2 (a further 15 month project to implement an XCRI-CAP feed) with each institution being funded to the tune of £40-80,000. (For a reference point, that’s the same amount of funding that a University will get in 2012-13 for 26-53 Band B students, e.g. first year medical students.)

I’ve been working on this with David, a fabulous TULIP intern, who has also been helping me with a bit of initial thinking and information dissemination about the Key Information Set (KIS).  Together, David and I have now read as much as we can about XCRI-CAP and have attended a number of online Eluminate sessions and a face-to-face session at Aston University.

My perception is that several universities signed up to explore XCRI-CAP as it was originally sold as being a helpful step in delivering the KIS.  However I think many universities might now see the connection.

Indeed, when we met with others in my institution to talk about the XCRI-CAP programme we found ourselves with more questions than answers:

1) Why are JISC really running this project?

We just couldn’t work out why JISC wanted to run the project in this way.  After all, as Tony Hirst has pointed out there must be a cheaper way of achieving the same results.

The explanation given at the Aston session was that JISC need to encourage as many institutions as possible to publish XCRI-CAP feeds in order to get the XCRI-CAP standard adopted.

2) Is now the right time to invest in XCRI-CAP? Especially when:

a) XCRI-CAP still needs to go through the standardisation process.  XCRI-CAP is the only part of the wider XCRI information model that is being pushed through a standardization process.

b) It is difficult to see that this standard has or will be adopted by external course aggregators, even though Allan and other members of the Course Data team have been talking to UCAS, Hotcourses and others.  Without this XCRI-CAP will remain a solution in search of a problem.

c) The recent White Paper had focused so intently on traditional undergraduate students and is going to cause a lot of extra work for staff in marketing, registry and planning functions.  These are the exact staff whose experience we would need to draw on in order to implement XCRI-CAP.

3) How exactly will implementing XCRI-CAP help us with the things we will have to do, like implement the KIS?  Like Bonnie Ferguson at Kent, David and I had fairly quickly identified that although both XCRI and the KIS are based on XML the overlap was probably not that great. Especially because the idea of what a course is, and the type of courses covered, will differ so much.  Within Stage 2, JISC would like us to focus on creating an XCRI-CAP feed for non-UCAS courses, especially online and distance learning courses (thanks to Dave White et al. for making point 4). Whilst my institution has plenty of these courses, I wouldn’t rate creating a course feed for these courses right now as the highest of priorities.  It’s not that it wouldn’t save us time and effort.  I know it would.  In a previous life I was the lucky so and so who had to fill in spreadsheet after spreadsheet of course information for various websites and course finder tools (at the time this included mainstream providers like Hotcourses, Studylink, FindAMasters, DegreeInfo, DLcoursefinder plus a range of more specialist websites that listed sector specific courses).

4) What’s the business benefit for our institution in moving to stage 2 other than JISC giving us some money?  Whilst at the face-to-face session Aston, I was fairly honest with people that I couldn’t see us progressing on to Stage 2.  I explained that I was struggling with the cost-benefit analysis and business benefits.

Despite my nay-saying attitude I found the day at Aston, really interesting and a welcome break from the usual routine of the office.  It’s the first time I’ve been to a JISC event in person and it was certainly an interesting experience, partly because of the sheer diversity of the participants.

I thought that Ruth the JISC Programme Manager did a sterling job in:

  1. skipping around the arguments around the commodification of HE;
  2. explaining the benefits of moving data to a standard more open format;
  3. pushing the idea that such formats should be perceived as an opportunity not a threat (although I wouldn’t necessarily agree with her that it’s an opportunity for institutions to show their distinctiveness); and
  4. selling stage 2 of the programme.

I also enjoyed talking with other members of the programme team.  I was fortunate to have both Rob and Kirstie leading the discussion on my table in the morning session and had a good chat with Allan about external organisations just before home-time.

The discussions with staff from other institutions were also really helpful.  After lunch I joined a table who were all using SITS as their main student database. In a sense it was reassuring to hear a set of similar perspectives and issues. However it may not have been the best use of my time.  I’d already got doubts about using SITS as a sole system because I’d read the Bolton case study on the XCRI knowledge base which explained:

Within the existing SITS system, data structures are in line with HESA and HESES returns, but not linked to the data structure and content required for marketing. The IPP (Institution Programme Publishing) module of SITS was available but had not been implemented. Internal developers felt they could achieve a lot more if they had better control over the database structure and built their own schema mapping out all the connections.

Since the day at Aston my view has softened quite a bit.  I always thought that XCRI-CAP was  a good idea in principle, but it was only after the Aston session that I managed to identify a business benefit or two.   I am still a little concerned that XCRI-CAP could prove to be diversionary and the benefits may not be all that tangible.

I think what worries me most is that there’s no mention of XCRI or XCRI-CAP anywhere in the outcomes of the consultation and next steps document for the Provision of information about higher education which HEFCE published in June.

It will therefore be interesting to see whether or not JISC reach their target of 80 institutions implementing an XCRI-CAP feed.  From Twitter I’ve seen that several people (Bedfordshire and Edgehill included) have submitted bids to Stage 2 but last Friday I was in Bath at a 1994 Group event.  Several  people who had been involved in Stage 1 were there and I was left with the fairly clear conclusion that I was the only one (of that group*) who was going to be working on a project plan for Stage 2 over the weekend.

It’s certainly not the best project plan I’ve ever been involved in, but we did manage to submit something relatively coherent and we would have a good team working on this so you never know we might just get lucky…

* I’m sure that a number of 1994 Group institutions have put in a bid for Stage 2, however their bids weren’t being led by their Planning Offices.


September 12, 2010

Leicester West

Filed under: simple hacks — Tags: — Brendan @ 9:08 pm

Someone mentioned to me that they had been asked how many applicants and students originally came from the Leicester West constituency.

Whilst our student record system holds all manner of data it naturally enough doesn’t record an applicant’s parliamentary constituency. Therefore I spent a bit of time investigating the data this weekend and downloaded some data and re-combined it into a lookup database.

The files I took were the National Statistics Postcode Database (NSPD) Open, August 2010 edition
and the Westminster Parliamentary Constituencies file.

This then allowed me to produce a simple database that told me that 2,156 LE postcodes from the NSPD map to the Leicester West constituency.

It’s the first time I’ve looked at any of the OS/ONS data and it’s not obvious which field is which as I haven’t been able to find a key to the data. I’m also not sure that all of the postcodes listed are still valid.

However I think I’ve recognised the key fields that I’m interested in. In addition to the Westminister Constituencies these are the Easting and Northing of each postcode as this will enable me to calculate (using Pythagoras) as the crow flies distance to the University from applicant’s home postcodes.

July 28, 2010

A digression

Filed under: PHP, RSS Feeds, simple hacks, Wordpress — Brendan @ 11:39 pm

I was invited in to a meeting at work a couple of weeks ago in which we were talking about blogging. After the meeting Stu threw a document up on Digress.It.

The document got a few mentions around the place and soon it started gathering a few comments (60 at the time of writing).

Digress.It is a really interesting platform however I think something went wrong with the comments.

I got a call of frustration from a member of the Marketing and Comms team earlier this week, who had been away on annual leave. She was amazed at how many really useful comments there had been. She’d seen some of them but wasn’t sure that she’d read them all of them and she certainly couldn’t do what she wanted which was to print off all of the comments alongside the original document.

I said I’d help and started by working out which RSS feeds were actually functioning (the comments by authors and the comments by numbered paragraph both seemed OK but the later certainly wasn’t displaying properly on Digress.It).

I realised early on that I was never going to manage to script a whole solution and it took a little while, until tonight, when I managed to clear enough time to complete this little digression. So I settled for a quick hack of an existing PHP script with some manual intervention.

What I did was to re-create the document in a Google Spreadsheet alongside the paragraph numbers (which are the keys for the RSS feeds of paragraph comments) and hacked the PHP script to include a request parameter. I also changed the end output slightly so it allowed me to pull down the comments and place them in to the cell next to the original text.

I know there must be a more elegant way of doing this but the document wasn’t that long whilst my time was short and my CSS and PHP skills and knowledge of ASCII/ANSI characters and regular expressions are all a little rusty.

From the spreadsheet it was a simple matter to copy and paste columns C&D in to a table in Word, run a couple of find and replaces, add some minor formatting and hey presto we have something more readable.

It was a nice little refresher for me as I’ve a feeling that I’m going to need to get reacquainted with regular expressions over the coming weeks.

June 19, 2010

Back to Africa / back to Facebook

Filed under: Facebook, International Student Recruitment — Brendan @ 9:11 pm

I’ve always had a bit of love affair with Africa.  So when I was pressured by my boss in to going to Ghana this week, I didn’t resist too hard.  Especially given that this is the year that Africa gains the recognition of hosting the World Cup.

It’s nine or ten years since I was last in Ghana and whilst I always consider Ghana as West Africa for beginners (it’s just less chaotic than elsewhere) I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

I loved meeting our students and alumni, and I caught a few moments to listen to some African drummers, who were performing outside my hotel at some sort of corporate function.

I also loved the football atmosphere.  There were signs of the world cup everywhere – from football pitches on the ground in the airport, to the flags of all of the nations involved all around the bars, to people selling football strips in the streets to cars carrying Ghanaian flags.

One of the objectives of the visit was to try and foster a better relationship with our alumni, and current students.  We had set up various events and so last Saturday during the first England game I set up a Facebook page to see if it would help promote the recruitment activities  and if it could be used to help foster an online community for students and alumni.  I had a Google Adwords voucher so I set up a few ads aimed at my target demographic and did a few Facebook ads as well.  This took a bit longer that I thought it would – primarily because the interface has changed so much on Google since I last used it via the web (about two years ago).  I ran the ads for a few days after we arrived and for a total cost of around £30 I’d had around 3/4m ad impressions and around 600 clicks through to the facebook fan page.  This meant that by the time I arrived in Ghana the following day there were already around 35 page ‘likers’ / fans.

Unfortunately whilst internet connectivity in West Africa has definitely moved on.  My personal connectivity hadn’t.  It was a bit of a hit and miss affair as to whether I could get on the internet.  When I did get online I generally couldn’t upload large files.  In all it meant that my ability to update statuses and drive interaction and traffic was a little limited.

It was therefore a bit of a bizarre coincidence that when I returned to the office yesterday that my first meeting of the day was a meeting about an official Facebook page.  Having just got in after a long flight I probably wasn’t in the best of form for such a meeting and my initial reaction was that there were far too many people in the room.  However I soon changed this view to being that some of the most important people hadn’t even been invited. I guess it comes back to the old problem of who owns stakeholder communications – and the answer is everyone.

May 28, 2010

Did I just describe a PLE?

I had an interesting phone call last week from someone in the COI. The COI, in case you don’t know, are the UK Government Central Office of Information (COI) – the Government’s centre of excellence for marketing and communications. They do some excellent work providing guidance on all aspects of marcomms.

Anyway, the person who rang me was carrying out a research study for The British Council. They were wanting to identify the media habits of professionals who work in the area of international education.  In particular they wanted to understand potential media which actively engage in issues related to higher education and how these were used.

So during the phone call I was read a list of media titles.  I’d heard of more or less all of the titles mentioned although there were a couple of more obscure titles (journals) where I wasn’t quite so sure.  In discussing the traditional media I explained that print-only media is more or less invisible for me.  The only thing that I receive in hard copy format that I even flick through is the COL newsletter.

So online media is really the only way I access this sort of specific news of information.  I also explained that I wasn’t that likely to visit a particular website to get my news, although I might use an online database, library or datastore if I knew what it contained.

I reflected back and thought about the professional networks that do exist.  They often provide meatspace opportunities but I recognised that very little news was ever highlighted to me offline.  Okay, I’d occasionally find out a little titbit of information in conversation with colleagues from other institutions especially at conferences but it was usually soft anecdotal stuff rather than news or hard information.

This lead to a bit of a discussion about what I thought NEWs was and an explanation from me that I was only really likely to look at NEWs if it was sent directly to me as an email newsletter or highlighted to me in another way, through an RSS feed or crowdsourced by a brand I trusted (either a corporate brand such as the chronicle or a personal brand) or if it hit a search filter of some type that I’d set up.

I also explained my reticence to paywalls and the problems I have with sites that have registration walls (e.g. the FT).

It was a quite an interesting conversation that had me reflecting quite a bit about my current media habits and how they have changed over the past few years.  Two or three years ago I would have given very different answers and even a year ago my thoughts were quite different and search seemed much more important to me.

I didn’t talk about the details of how I get my NEWs these days but whilst I was on the phone I kept thinking have I just described a Personal Learning Environment.

In terms of the details of my PLE, for the past six months or so I’ve relied on my6Sense to keep me updated.   My6Sense is an interesting iPhone app that pulls together your social and RSS feeds.   The idea is that the more that you use it the more it understands your interests and starts to surface the things that you’ll find relevant.  I usually check it a couple of times a day and so far I’ve found it to be pretty good.  Of course, I don’t really know what I’m missing however for some reason it feels better knowing I’ve flicked through a couple of pages of my6sense recommendations than seeing the thousands of items that I never got around to looking at in Google Reader.

I do also occasionally dip in to Twitter and Friendfeed.  Twitter lists, and friend lists on Friendfeed help me catch up on things that particular people have said that I might have missed and I also use Friendfeed to bookmark things to go back to read later when I have more time.

I certainly don’t feel that I’m really part of an international education network.  If an online network does exists for the people who are interested in these aspects of international education then either:

  1. I  haven’t really found it yet (although I have found lots of people who offer some really interesting points of view);  or
  2. I’m too much of a visitor and not resident enough – also read I’ve been too much of a lazy slacker and haven’t worked hard enough to become part of that network yet.

However, I do feel that I’ve got the beginnings of a personal learning environment.  It’s a learning environment that I know will definitely change over the coming years, months and days in ways that I can only dream of, but it’s still my very own PLE isn’t it?

March 27, 2010

So how many is that. Where, what and who…

Filed under: Data Visualisations, simple hacks — Brendan @ 12:03 am

I often have fairly complex sets of data that I need people to understand.  Often what I need to represent is geographical market information, i.e. country related data.

The sort of common questions I get include things like who and where are our students, how are courses growing in certain markets etc.

I’ve found that this sort of data is often best represented in some graphical format.

So I’m always interested  when I see a new way of laying the data in new ways that can be easily understood.  The latest I’ve discovered is producing kml output that uses the Google Chart api and opens in Google Earth to produce images like this.

It’s a shame that the kml doesn’t quite work the same way in Google Maps as it does in Google Earth.  Maps is more accessible in that it doesn’t require a plugin to work on the web. However the pie charts are icons and in Google Maps the icons are apparently automatically scaled to 32×32 pixels.

Because of wordpress limitations I can’t easily show the Google Earth version above and have opted for a screenshot instead. Although if you have Google Earth installed you just use the spreadsheet to produce a kml file and simply open it to get the full effect.

To enable me to generate these sort of images quickly I’ve made a spreadsheet in to which I can quickly enter data and then when I flip to the KML tab I can just copy and paste the text that’s produced into notepad.

Then it’s just a simple case of saving the file and double clicking on it in to open it up in Google Earth.

What I love about this method is how flexible it is.  I may well alter the spreadsheet so the output can be customised more easily.  e.g. at the moment on the settings tab I just allow the name, description and something that helps manage the scale of the charts to be customised.  I could easily see how I could customise the chart further (e.g. include the dataset labels, choosing colours, choosing the type of chart etc) or maybe even customising the numbers of data series used.

March 10, 2010

Flipping the HigherEd Funnel

Filed under: International Student Recruitment, Social Media — Brendan @ 11:29 pm

Early last week I listened to a podcast on which Joseph Jaffe talked about some of his thinking in his latest book and I was left thinking “yeah, I’m not really sure how new this is but he seems to make sense, I wonder how much of this applies in a Higher Education (HE) context”. Then later in the week I saw a series of tweets from Mark Greenfield who was attending a webinar run by Powered, Jaffe’s company. Mark seemed to be thinking in the same way to me.

Then later in the week, last Friday, I sat through an all-staff Marketing Division Briefing at the University I work with. It covered the internal changes in the University and anticipated changes in the operating environment. I think the key phrase was this will be a period of “cuts and austerity”.

Then there was a sort of mini-marketing lesson. It was fairly standard stuff. It included the difference between Marketing Communications and Marketing as a whole – a topic that I’d often rail about. The lesson was necessary as the Division is actually really large and includes staff from Admissions, Alumni Relations, MarComms, Student Recruitment, Press & PR and the International Office who may not have had a formal marketing training or background.

Most of the lesson centred on the importance of differentiation and brevity of messaging. There was quite a bit about the importance of being first.

e.g. Everyone knows who Yuri Gargarin is but the guy on the left was apparently the third man in space (I say apparently as I found out later it depends a bit on your definition of space). Unsurprisingly no-one knew his name?

What about the 49th UK Prime Minister? She might be better known as the first female UK Prime Minister, mightn’t she?

The point was then made that many university marketing straplines and positioning statements are similar to that used by the Flight of the Concords. Compare “Ranked 6th best for student employment performance for non-specialist higher education institutions in England”; “Fourth for the highest average graduate starting salaries”; “Ranked in the top 5 best modern universities”; with “Formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo.”

From that there was then a vague UK university branding map the Elite (Oxbridge) at one end and the New Universities at the other. This lead on to the New Elite positioning. etc, etc.

What surprised me was that another UK university was mentioned alongside Oxbridge as an elite university. I initially thought this was just a slip of the tongue. However, from a conversation over a coffee later in the day I started thinking that it might not be.

This was particularly interesting for me because when I started looking for a job closer to home in Spring/Summer’08 I’d had a couple of interviews at this university to head up Student Recruitment.

I obviously didn’t get the job, which at the time I was very upset about, but now I’m happy with as my current role is far more up my street.

However, as part of this interview process I had to present on their new corporate strategy which ran to 2015 (seven years in the future) and the implications of this strategy. I was presenting to a group of staff – who would have either been my peers, or working to me.   It was a fairly standard-ish presentation covering how the future was fairly unpredictable and to demonstrate this I looked back at what has happened in the previous seven years (top-up fees; the twin towers attacks and it’s impacts on the international education market; an explosion of Chinese students on the campus of the university; communication changes including the rise of the web, email and mobile phones; the effect of their recent rise up the league tables etc.) and what this meant as their recruitment funnels changed shape. I went on to explain some of the challenging targets in the strategy and how I felt we would need to future-proof ourselves….

After the presentation one of the questions that I was asked was something like, how do you think our exhibition booth should look to differentiate ourselves at UCAS recruitment fairs? The question was obviously being asked of everyone. I seem to remember giving a fairly glib response and then asking a question back, “How important are UCAS recruitment fairs going to be to this University in the future?”

So how does this story fit with Jaffe’s Flip the Funnel?

Well, Jaffe has written a business book based on the premise that “Customer retention is totally overlooked and is in fact the new acquisition.”

He explains it in this short video.

I don’t like using the word customers, I prefer students, but I’ll buy that Higher Education is a business, maybe a business in need of radical change, but still a business.   My view is that in the vast majority of the world the qualification and the educational/student experience are commodities that are purchased – although I realise that this may not sit comfortably for many educators. (e.g. I listened to George Siemens at TEDxNYED at the weekend say something like if education draws heavily from corporations, I don’t want any part of it.)

However, unlike many industries the Higher Education Business is usually a significant one-off purchase. This means that some of the Jaffe’s soundbites about returning customers don’t seem quite that applicable* e.g.

12% of all Coca-Cola customers account for 80% of Coca-Cola Classic sales

75% of Zappos‘ revenue comes from returning customers

* at least not in student recruitment, although I can see some of them fitting well with other roles in HE, like alumni relations/giving.

In HE students (our customers) don’t usually come back for seconds and there is selection process that works both ways.  We are often recruiting with an eye on the quality and diversity of the intake, or to meet specific targets imposed either by physical limits or a regulatory environment.

In contrast, most businesses aren’t fussy about who their customers are.   (Although, I’m sure it does happen on occasion, e.g. I watched an episode of the brilliant 1950’s set Mad Men TV show, and there was a storyline about a TV manufacturer called Admiral not wanting to advertise to “Negroes”.)

However, these differences shouldn’t lead the HE community to entirely dismiss the concepts and stories that Jaffe is promoting. For example, on the recruitment side it is easy for selecting universities to over-invest in awareness by not pushing their points of differentiation or by attending fairs and advertising in specific publications and partaking in other promotional activity simply because that’s what others are doing.  Whilst retention of the right prospects through the conversion funnel and converting these “right prospects” is often underplayed.

Detractors (e.g. United Breaks Guitars) and promoters are more important than ever before.  Changes in communications have allowed people to express their satisfaction, and more likely dissatisfaction, to large numbers of people far more easily and quickly than in the past.

Jaffe is definitely on to something when he says what’s needed is  content, conversation and commendation.  He says we need to give our promoters a megaphone.  A sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more.

He’s also quick to push the customer experience to counter detractors.  In a rough approximation of his words, Customer Service is the new Marketing/PR and it can be a revenue generator but it’s “not your grandfather’s customer service.” It’s alive and it certainly shouldn’t stop at 5pm on Friday.

To me this is Moments of Truth played in public, in real time, often over the web.  Yes we need to build fantastic customer service, which requires an ongoing commitment, but we need to back this up with as near to a real time 24/7 monitoring service as we can afford.  My view is that this should incorporate formal processes as well as we have a duty of care for all students not just those with the loudest voices.  This monitoring / feedback process then needs to be triaged.  Issues and problems need to acknowledged, evaluated and routed with serious issues escalated to appropriate decision makers so that responses can be made as quickly as possible.  (In HE not all decisions can be made quickly, especially if a committee is involved, as they often are.)

One of the tweets I saw from Mark asked “Where does “customer service” organizationally reside in #highered?”  Well, my guess is it has to be distributed.  OK, there may well be within my university a Student Experience Committee but it’s the entire staff (including academic, administrative, technical and any other type of staff member) that provide the service.  These people will be considered by the student to be the organisation.  They are the brand*.  And, like or not, that means that they market the institution whether they know it or not.

* People are the brand, this tweet came up during the webinar. I think it has important implications for how brands should use social media and the importance of meshing personal, professional and corporate messages.

Hard to have a relationship w/ a biz. People want to talk to people, not to the “brand”

In conclusion, I’m not sure how new or original Jaffe’s thoughts are.  Especially if your starting point is that marketing is about identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.  The world is obviously changing.  Customers have a bigger voice than they ever have had in the past  and some of Jaffe’s stories and concepts help illustrate this well.  I’d love to read the book, but I’m realistic and know that unless it’s an audiobook I probably need to wait until I next take another holiday or a flight.

I’m sure there are other implications for HE that I’ve missed so I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.

January 6, 2010

Career women make bad mothers

Filed under: Social Media, Trad marketing methods — Tags: — Brendan @ 7:01 am

I saw the “Career women make bad mothers” outdoor ad on a bus shelter as I was driving around the Leicester Ring Road on my way home yesterday.

It made an impression.  I remember thinking, “What advertiser uses a message like that.  Are they looking for trouble. ”

As I was only able to read the headline I assumed it was for some trashy new TV show.  A few minutes later I’d forgotten all about it.  Then in the evening I saw a tweet by @pigironjoe and I was interested enough to read his posterous post

Unlike Tristram I’m not a careers person so I wasn’t particularly interested in the careers aspect of the headline.  Instead, I was interested in the campaign itself.

So I went off to the marketing comics to find out a bit more.  According to Media Week/Brand Republic, it’s part of a £1.25m campaign to promote the power of outdoor advertising and will use 11,500 billboards and poster sites nationwide.  To put this into perspective it’s the equivalent weight as a campaign that would be used for the launch of a new blockbuster film or of a campaign by a major telecoms company.

What interests me about this campaign is the supposed interaction between online and offline media and the use of such a provocative headline.  In terms of the provocative headline I think that “Max Harrington” sums my thoughts up well with his comment on the Media Week/Brand Republic article.

Max Harrington

Max Harrington – 05/01/2010
This approach is a bit old hat these days. Couldn’t they come up with something that’s clever or funny? When the outdoor industry did that campaign \(10 years ago) for a fake Aussie perfume that was brilliant. If the outdoor industry wants to seduce brands then use the style of creative ads that brands would run. The average marketing director will simply say “well of course you got a response, you insulted thousands of people, big deal, that ain’t selling”.

However what really has me scratching my head is the quote from Alan James, the chief executive of the Outdoor Advertising Agency, “The campaign hopes to demonstrate the power of outdoor advertising as a direct response medium with the ability to drive people online.”  (Now this may not be an exact quote, there’s a subtle difference between the word direct and the word immediate used in the Daily Dooh post linked above. )

But in any case, why:

  1. was the URL so small as to be unreadable on the poster?
  2. pick the domain when there is already a domain which dates from March 2003 (it was for text-messaging about the Iraq War and I found the analysis of their campaign really interesting);
  3. build a site that’s so poor for SEO purposes?
  4. run neglible PPC? Bizarrely they are bidding on “Britain Thinks” – where’s the PPC for the phrases that they will use on their posters.  If I were still a PPC advertiser I’d seriously consider running a campaign on their phrases for some quick, cheap eyeballs.

You’d expect them to get all this right wouldn’t you.  After all this a serious £1.25m campaign – isn’t it?

Having seen the poster the only thing I had to go on was the phrase Career Women make Bad Mothers.  So I typed it directly in to Google and at the time of writing the number one result was a highly critical mumsnet post “Career women make bad mothers“.  Whilst on Bing it’s this great blog post on “Career women make bad mothers“.

The BritainThinks website doesn’t make the first page on either search engine.

Whilst there is definitely more to getting a message across than advertising on Google poor oohgle thinking is unforgivable in this day and age.  Separately I’m wondering what effect the snow is going to have on the campaign.

December 31, 2009

Going mobile

Filed under: Google Maps, Tools — Brendan @ 11:13 pm

The other day I was with an old friend and tried out his roll-up keyboard. I was quite surprised at how good it was.

However we both agreed that like the virtual laser keyboard it was probably nothing more than a frivolity – given the likely advances in small laptops and the upcoming iSlate/iGuide or whatever Apple decide to call it. We got on to talking about some of the newish Sony models. He liked the Z series whilst I was arguing in favour of this smaller and cheaper one (I was amazed that all I could remember about it was that it weighed 638g).

Although we disagreed about which Sony we preferred, we both agreed that what we were looking for was something that was a cross between a phone and a computer. But, something that offers more than the “Jesus phone” (his words) currently does, i.e. offer a slightly bigger keyboard that works across all applications.

For me it just confirmed my belief that mobile computing is on the cusp of an even greater uptake. It is only going to become more and more important (irrespective of what format it takes).

When I got my iPhone (Jesus Phone) over a year ago one of the things that I was most taken by were the apps and services that used geo-location. Some of the apps, like Twinkle (and others whose names I have since forgotten), were lost when I did my first reset and I didn’t bother to download them again.
I also had a play with Google Latitude at around the same time, or maybe it was it later? In any case, like Google Wave, I couldn’t really understand how I’d use it at the moment so I didn’t bother spending much time with it.

Now, this could be a case of me being reticent to use a technology for the sake of using a technology. This was after all the way I thought about things like blogging (and micro-blogging services) when I first encountered them. It’s a similar feeling to that I had when I first started publishing thoughts on the web. I didn’t get Twitter for a long time. However it may also be that I simply don’t have a network there yet.

I can certainly see the value in having a geographically local network sharing locally useful information. However I don’t think I want everyone to know where I am all the time. I’m not sure I even want my ‘friends’ to know where I am (whichever way we choose to define the word ‘friend’ – personally I like my 5yo son’s definition “someone I play with” – although that is probably a separate blog post in it’s own right).

Geo-networks, services and games scare me because of the security implications in the physical world. I guess it’s a bit like the advice about not leaving a programmed sat-nav devices in your car at a long stay car parks because burglars have been known to use these devices to guide them to your home address which they know will be vacant.

Recently though I’ve started hearing and reading more about specific GPS based location services / games, in particular Foursquare and Gowalla. I’ve seen more of my digital friends using these services and I’ve been very interested to hear about how corporates were using these services, e.g. Advertising a cocktail bar in Dublin. I’ve also heard stories about people checking in to a location being served adverts or messages from local competitors.

So I’ve started looking at both Foursqaure and Gowalla a bit more closely. At this stage they are definitely only being used by early adopters (at least in the part of the UK in which I live – although Foursquare probably hasn’t helped themselves there – London, Birmingham, Manchester seem to be the only English cities).

Once I’d had about a week of playing.   If you look me up you’ll see I don’t get out that much. My initial thoughts were:

  • geo-location has a long way to go in rural areas, I created several spots that were a long way out;
  • both services seem to be being used more in Coventry than they are in Leciester, although I wonder if this is something to do with proximity to Birmingham especially in the case of Foresquare;
  • how could/would my business – a university – use these services;
  • are these GPS based networks going to die out quickly based on the addition of geo-location to other social networks, e.g. Facebook and Twitter. Mashable had an interesting post on this just today.  My take is that a useful service will take a while.

I think for universities campus tours would seem to be the obvious next step and I can see that it’s not just me thinking about this. The tours, tips and networking features would be ideal for open days, for freshers and new staff arriving on a campus.

December 6, 2009

Anti-social blogging

Filed under: Volleyball, Wordpress — Brendan @ 10:43 pm

Last weekend I did a WordPress installation. (I also finally got around to having a five minute play on Google Wave.)

Whilst doing this I was reminded that I’ve written before that tools are used differently by different people.  I was reminded of this because I didn’t start waving publicly and I had no intention of using WordPress conventionally as a blog.

Instead I’m thinking of using WordPress as a simple web back-end for a five web-page site for my volleyball club because:

  1. It can be updated easily from an iPhone which is important for updating scores from the game.  From this tweet it seems that I’m not the only person thinking in this way.
  2. I wanted to produce a better browsing experience for iPhone/smartphone users.  I could have done this by looking at writing some new CSS but it probably would have meant additional JQuery work whereas WordPress has a great WP-touch plugin that can just be turned on.  So I figured that it might just be simpler and better to move the site over to WordPress (as it also adds a great deal of flexibility e.g. the site could be easily updated by others within the club if need be).

The installation was extremely straightforward – as they claim it really is a five minute installation.  Although it was far from a five minute job to get the site up and running.  In fact although I’ve got something working well in a subfolder I’ve not replaced the current site yet.

I’ve spent a couple of hours on this little project over the course of a week (and have made a note of what I’ve done so far below for my own reference):

1) I dropped some content in to blog pages.

2) Find some way of displaying Google Maps on the blog. I tested a few different variants but settled on the Google Maps Plugin for WordPress primarily because it’s incredibly simple and allows relative scaling of the map.

3) I also needed the Exec-PHP plug-in as I use this to run a simple include lifting the league table from the Associations webpages and inserting it on the Results and Fixtures page.

4) Find a theme that I could easily modify.  I settled on Starscape.  To modify it I did the following (N.B. again I’ve listed these in full to remind myself of what I did):

  • Knock off some of the features that I didn’t want – e.g. date icons on posts, the links to home and RSS in the header, one of the sidebars and the footer.
  • Added a new favicon.
  • Moved the search below the sidebar
  • Centralised and reduced the size of the text in the header.
  • Created three PNG images for the header and footer – center and top and footer images (although I think I might need to re-look at these as I don’t think that they work in the way I’d like yet).
  • Modded a couple of the php files (Page Template – page.php) – e.g. changing words from things like “Published” to “Last updated” etc.

5) Installed and configured the WP-Touch plug-in.  This was actually far easier than modifying the theme.  All it really took was choosing what not to show, shortening the name of the site and uploading a couple of icons.  I did have a bit of difficulty with the home page redirection setting.  It claimed that there were too many redirects.  However simply changing this to the default WordPress setting made all of the difference.

This was the first time I’d played about with WordPress or looked properly at what it can do.  Having seen various  plug-ins and options I know I’ve not even scratched its surface yet.

My only difficulty so far has been finding option settings.  For example when installing the Google Maps Plugin the documentation said “install it in the plugin’s admin page under Options”.  This left me a little lost.  I couldn’t immediately see the admin page and spent some time searching around the php files before eventually realising the admin page can be found under Settings on WordPress rather than within the plugins section.

I still need to do a bit more testing before I send my little site live.  However having got this far I can see myself catching a bug and writing my own custom themes.

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