Thanks Tim

A short(ish) post about something huge.

I was sitting in a weekly management meeting today and as we went through the usual agenda, i was struck by something; 

Every single person in that room wouldn’t be there if Sir TIm Berners-Lee hadn’t invented the WWW 25 years ago this week. The company i work for is listed on NASDAQ and almost every cent of its near $3bn market cap is because of Tim. Many of the friends and colleagues i’ve made over a 20 year career is because what Tim created.

I would hope that Sergey, Larry, Mark and many others stop for a few seconds tomorrow and tip their hat to what enabled their billions to be made. 

I also thought about the early days in London – this would be 94/95. We hung out in Backspace (now a Starbucks on Clink Street). We were all on Haddock, the mailing list. Charlie Brooker was about to write TV Go Home and was making prank calls on Super Kaylo. Hari Kunzru the acclaimed author wrote for British Wired and hung out with folks like Danny O’Brien and Dave Green, both of Wired and the wonderful NTK (NTK Live was always fun, especially i recall the whip round we had to buy Microsoft).  All this before Danny went to fight the good fight at the EFF. Folks like Stefan Magadalinski were thinking up stuff like Up My Street, Matt Jones was about to help design the first BBC News website (before rampaging through Nokia, Dopplr, Berg and Google). Yoz Grahame was about to make the Hitchhikers actually real with Douglas Adams at Digital Village before making Second Life real, if that makes sense. Tom Loosemore was making Capital Radio digital, before changing the way our Government delivers its services via digital. Give me a bit longer and the so would the list be.

Agencies came and went: Obsolete, Deepend, Sunbather, Webmedia, Lateral, Online Magic to name check a few…

I also thought about the books that we devoured and the articles that each Wired gave us. Neal Stephenson was required reading – Snow Crash, Diamond Age. In fact, Diamond Age is coming down off the shelf.

Most of us are now 40 something’s. Many of us have children. We are as Darren Hayman notes ‘half way through now’ (though i’m not ‘making a list of the things we forgot to do’ just yet). The world my children inhabit is Tim’s world. It’s simply the way their world works. To me that is still amazing and something that get’s me out of bed each day. 

I could not have imagined my old Mac Quadra 630 with a 28.8 dial up would grow up to be a MacBook Air with fibre broadband with 13 wi-fi devices connected to it. That’s simply nuts.

We logged onto things like MIT’s MediaMoo and ALT Newsgroups…the Web was only part of the Internet we were using.

I feel lucky to have been there at the ground floor of this thing. It’s given me a living i couldn’t have imagined. 

So thanks Tim. I really have no idea what i’d be doing now. It really is as you say, for everyone.


M&S new website – and Idle UX Twitter Criticism

You may have noticed in the news this week that M&S launched its new website. Generally the feedback seems positive rather than negative.

We at SapientNitro London are very proud that our work partnering with M&S is getting such good feedback. All the teams worked brilliantly together for a common goal.

 I have sat next to many of the folks that have lived this for over 2 years and they have my admiration for their dedication to the cause. This was a marathon not a sprint.

So why after 3 years of not posting a single sausage to this blog am I bothering now?

I’ll tell you straight – UX TwitterTwats who idly trash 2.5 years of work without any idea of the sheer scale of the undertaking that M&S and SapientNitro embarked on, that’s why.

And i don’t mean civilians who are dealing with a new website they are not used to and moaning a bit, but so called professionals who with 140 characters sit on their throne and hand out smug criticisms. Well, as the Vietnam vets used to say ‘you weren’t there man!’ Few of these people have any real clue just what an amazing achievement to get something like this out the door really is. Few will ever work on something of this scale.

Lets look at a few things shall we.

This was not just about a website. This was about one of Britain’s greatest brands making a wholesale move into Omni-Channel. They were making a move for the future. See Laura Wade-Gery’s comments about it in the various press that has gone out from M&S. This was a complete look at the way they work with technology from web, to store and much in-between. This wasn’t some twatty piece of front-end technology, or Drupal or Magento or even just a large eCommerce re-platform. This was about changing the direction of a loved supertanker, as it continued with business as usual, in what i think we can all agree, were very challenging trading times. In short, this was BIG.

Oh, just  a small point. The website launched on the day it was meant to 2 years previously. On time and on budget. The teams at M&S and at SapientNitro should be dining out on that for months to come. Think about how complex such a mammoth undertaking is and how easily that shit can go wrong. Spectacularly wrong. Amazing accomplishment that everyone involved should be very proud of.

The technology challenge was deep and long and I tip my hat to all involved.

Then there was the massive challenge to make it worthwhile to the people that matter – M&S customers.

Much has been made of the editorial approach. The ‘everyday inspiration’ idea was at the heart of the creative. You see it shining through. The experience has been largely lauded and rightly so. It just ‘works’ on many levels. It brings together the thing that digital often finds very hard – the mix of emotional and rational.

Many eCommerce websites are just lists with pictures. Very rational places to be. There was no way that would ever be good enough. The leap away from Amazon was to give M&S control over its future, to serve its customers online how they wanted to. There had to be a big dose of emotion in the site. It’s not got the instant heart pull of a 30 second ad spot, more the slow release of enjoyment as you discover new content as you move around the site.

The creative is more than solid, it’s pretty wonderful when you think what a balancing act it has managed to pull off thus far. Emotional based web creative, backed by research, content and powerful technology is an awesome thing indeed. At SapientNitro we know that consumers now occupy a space that mixes the virtual, the emotional and the physical. It’s in that space that stories are now existing. The design had to reflect those principals.

Of course there will be a few hiccups – but something of this scale will only truly be stress tested to the very bottom of its capability once it’s truly live with customers doing all sorts of things to it.

There have been a few comments over the mobile experience not being responsive. Well, all i will say is that there a myriad of decisions that get made for very good business reasons to leave things as they are sometimes. If you work in this industry and work with great clients like M&S, you know this wasn’t an oversight. There are reasons for everything that are debated long and hard.

So my riposte to the UX TwitterTwats, lets see you do better then on something as large and as complex as that. Once you have, maybe we’ll talk. Maybe i’ll idly crash out 140 characters aimed at your work.

Finally, to the M&S and SapientNitro teams: Firstly many congratulations, secondly, that was just the beginning. Now it gets interesting.



Annoyingly specific, TV Futures

The Last Post

So, we come to the sad, but noisy end. As you may have read, Big Brother is being resurrected on Channel 5. Only a couple of weeks ago I wrote of the missed opportunity not take Big Brother social – dispensing with a tired TV production constrained format.
But, depressingly, they are merely bringing it back to life as a zombie version of it’s previous self.
It is now without doubt that Endemol in the UK are little more than TV version of a microwave – reheating pre-cooked meals – they have lost the ability to cook for themselves. In Ad agency terms, if a bunch of createives went so long without producing award winning, stand out work, they would be fired. But no, in Endemol, those people take home fat salaries and sit on important panels about the future of TV.
Honestly, hand on heart, when has the UK team produced truly innovative TV of their own devising? Peter Bazelgette revolutionised entertainment formats early on, but since those glory days, it’s been one long list of mis-fires.
Yes, The ever popular and grumpy Charlie Brooker works for them, but in reality, Charlie is their one stand out creative. SuperKaylo and TVGoHome was genius long before he got an office on the 5th floor.
I sound bitter when I read back.I’m not. But I’m disappointed at lost opportunity. They were market leaders, had a huge brand, money to back it. They fucked it. They had the opportunity to shape the industry, get way out in front of everyone else. I’m sad when companies don’t see the strategic opportunity in front of them.  It’s one thing to see the opportunity but not execute, another not to see it all.
Brilliant creative folk like Pasa Mustafa who ran their original digital content arm have bailed out. Already his East London Production company are starting to do the work Endemol should have been begging for.
So back to Big Brother.
Mr Desmond has scored – his red tops get fodder, Channel 5 will score a sponsor and as they have already stated, sell atttactive media deals across the estate.
Meanwhile, Endemol gets content for Holy Moly, exclusive content and access no doubt.
So i’m sure there are many smiles in various offices in Covent Garden and Shepherds Bush.
But the reality, and no-one knows more about reality than Endemol, is they are dead men walking. They just don’t know it.
I can hear the Last Post being played.
Annoyingly specific, Should know better, TV Futures, Uncategorized

Holy Moly, Endemol! OMG WTF?

Irregular readers will know that I have written a few pieces about my former employer Endemol. The first was about the TV demise of Big Brother and how it should have allowed them to explore the format online and socially. It didn’t apparently.

The second was about Manchester City appointing them to exploit their brand. I thought it was a smart move as football is nothing if not an entertainment format with lots of content. But all that was produced was a somewhat boring documentary.

Both opportunities should have been 360, transmedia, leading edge, digital content love-fests. But no. Really very TV solutions to things that could be have been far, far more.
And now, I see why. They haven’t got a Scooby what they are doing when it comes anything outside of their cosy TV commissions.
So, that’s it for Endemol UK. They have finally shown that they simply don’t get the modern, social networked content consumer. They have jumped the shark.
How do we know this?
They just bought Holy Moly. A second rate celeb gossip site that was big for a while back in the celeb mad noughties. The site started by the son of s TV exec. (a comfort blanket for Endemol I’m sure), has been overtaken by Twitter, Facebook and other places where such ‘gossip’ now happens. And that’s not even talking about the dying of that celeb driven market.
I’m sure they see some 360 loveliness, where the old Endemol celebrity machine will turn full circle, both generating and venerating the same people. What i see is another white elephant that will be put in the frozen wastes of the 5th floor of Endemol Towers (where only the hardy Brooker survives). Give it 18 months and it will be quietly taken out back and shot.
Holy Moly indeed.
Agency side, Interactions, Should know better

Why innovation labs worry me

In our industry (extra points for someone who can tell me that that is in less than 2 pints worth of time), often what people say is the cover for what they are struggling to actually do.

A few examples;

Integrated. That’s another one that fits the same rule as ‘innovation lab’. “We’re integrated”. The sub-text is of course “we have no idea how to get these folks to work together, so we really need to focus on being more joined up internally so clients don’t thinks we’re schmucks who have no idea what each other does. But let’s make it a selling point!”
I fear the same for a lab. “it allows us to do thinking outside of client constraints and pass that back to our teams to do cool stuff with clients”. The sub text here is “we don’t really innovate in our client teams and all our teams are knackered just keeping the lights on. We’d better sort this out. Let’s build a lab and make it a selling point!”.
If i was a client i’d be a bit hacked off if the innovation was happening where i wasn’t paying for it.
The next one on from that is the ‘Agile’ (or the “silver bullet that will solve all your development problems, promise”) This is often hand-in-hand with the labs where they promise to work in an agile way to get proofs of concept out – quickly. The sub text on that one is ” Fuck, it takes ages to get anything done round here, let’s call it agile and how we iterate and release stuff quickly. Let’s make it a selling point!”
Now, don’t get me wrong, i like following BBH Labs on Twitter as much as the next guy, and i like a bit of agile delivery (when it is truly Agile and not lots of mini-waterfalls in disguise) and I can be partial to be a bit of integrated.
But please can we stop claiming all those things as something that is in someway a bonus for our clients when in fact they should be business as usual.
Annoyingly specific, Design stuff, Interactions, Should know better

Everything Everywhere – just a small promise then

So, Everything Everywhere the new shiny version of  T-Mobile and Orange have finally announced that they are taking the holding company brand mainstream and consumer facing. They will open 4 stores over the next few weeks. They promise the stores will be a ‘fun and interactive environment’. As Marvin the Paranoid Android may say ‘sounds ghastly’.

It goes on to say that it aims to approach the mobile retail space differently from other operators by NOT focusing on aggressive selling, but rather by ‘engaging with the customer’. Lucky customers will be able to  charge their phone , enjoy  free Wi-Fi, app downloading and mobile repairs. Additionally, ‘all handsets and devices will be live, allowing customers to test them in-store’. Or in Eltham, enabling customers to see what they can nick.

So, first off – before my cynical head gets the better of me. At least they are trying. However, i would imagine Apple are simply going ‘huh?, you mean, you don’t do that already?’. So i wait with keen interest to see how they are received.

Let’s hope that the sales staff (who must be called something like Everywhere Evangelists), are incentivised in the right way. Would love to know the metrics of success for the stores if it’s not sales. Number of smiles of small children?

The whole idea points to the ‘Americanisation’ of our shopping experience. ‘How am i today?, well now you ask…’ Apple of course (with BestBuy) are leading the service not selling approach. Which is great. For some brands.

However, I do have a small problem with the Everything Everywhere idea. It is a rather large brand promise. Encompassing as it does all of space and time, dark matter , everything that has been and will ever be. There are not a lot of places for a brand to go after making that statement.

So i find it amusing that they choose as their first foray, not by branding a cloud, rain or kittens, or the international space station, or the Large Hadron Collider, but by opening a shop in Eltham.  Has a touch of the Monty Python about it.

I think being a little bit English, I may have gone for something not so huge. Maybe a little bit Douglas Adams. I’ve got it:

‘Mostly Harmless’

Most consumers will take that everyday of the week from the majority of brands


Agency side, Design stuff, Interactions

Facebook is the new brand microsite

Maybe I’m getting old. (no maybe about it). Maybe I’m getting cynical.  But every bloody poster I see has ‘find us on Facebook’. The only brand that can really do that is Findus, but i digress.

Digital ad agencies spent years making micro sites for brands. Many still do. Yes, they have got cleverer, but, a microsite is a micro site.
Now that everyone is ‘socialed up’, instead of the trusty microsite we are being asked to hunt brands down on Facebook and be their friend. I ‘Like’ you.
I can only guess at how many campaign metrics have been ‘get us more followers’. Cos, like, Wall Street, really takes note of that number for your stock price.
Yes, we know your consumers will spend more time on Facebook than hunting down your brand site. And yes, if they really love (or hate) your brand they will find you and either profess brand love or tell everyone you suck (more likely the latter, and your NPS dives with it)
I would rather see a poster that says in the small print at the bottom;
‘we spent a bit of cash trying to get our call centres to talk to our stores, who now, both give a shit about digital, because, mr customer, we get it that you don’t give a shit about loving us, you just want a good experience when you are actually about to do something with us and that might, just might, make you come back next time. Or even tell someone its was better than Ok when you dealt with us’
On reflection, it’s easier to have a Facebook page. How many followers do you want again?