How The Guardian lost me as a loyal reader – a lesson in how not to do digital censorship.

Since art school i have read The Guardian. It’s the rules.

In 2012 i signed up to their CiF so i could join in the comment fun. All was going well till the day before yesterday when in a single spell, they lost me as a loyal reader after 25 years.

Let me explain. I like to play and watch tennis. Generally the tennis coverage on the Guardian site is a bit rubbish. What they do have is a small gang of folks who make up the tennis CiF community. It toils away, quite happy with itself. It’s never moderated as it’s a bit of a backwater.

There are two Class A trolls on the tennis comments; EnglishDollop and Nuren. Harmless enough and they are very good at winding up their fellow commenters. It has reached a point where they are anticipated and if they don’t carry out their role, the thread seems a bit lacking.

On Wednesday, I noticed that the moderators were on the site. Must be Wimbledon. So i left a comment saying ‘ i see the mods are here, I’m sure they’ll be busy with replies to the trolls’.

Later on that day I checked the thread and saw that comment had been deleted by the mods. I also saw that the first reply to the trolls had been deleted.

So I left another comment expressing surprise at being modded and saying they had modded a troll response.

Guess what? That comment was deleted too.

I finally left another comment asking if i even mention the mods in a post does that mean it was going to be deleted?

Yep, it did.

Then i was informed that all my posts were being pre-moderated.

I found the CiF help page. Apparently they do that for poor posting behaviour. Sadly they can’t give explanations for modded comments they tell me or why i was marked out as trouble. There is no way of knowing what you’ve done other than break ‘community rules’. There is not appeal. No one to talk to. They are the Ministry of Comment and they do not comment!

So I think my commenting time is up. I’ll delete my profile.

Guess what? You can’t do that from your profile. You have to email them. How good is that user experience?!

So i email them. They reply back and say my ‘wildonion’ is not right it so they can’t delete my account. I have to reply back and say oh yes it is. They reply back and say if I’m sure, can i reply and tell them YES i want to delete my account.

The petty, opaque censorship. The terrible approach to my own account and data surprised and disappointed me from a newspaper i thought would be better at this. Its not the Daily Mail afterall!

I feel like you are acting like a quinoa eating, North Korea. I’m not helping your online advertising revenues anymore.

Very disappointed of SE London

Goodbye Guardian.



Did digital break the election?

As we get towards voting day, and we watch the political parties pitch for our business, i had a sudden thought. Has digital broken the election?

What i mean by that is digital behaviour is now the de-facto way the world works. The two party system was akin to the BBC and ITV. Whether you liked what was on or not, that was the choice. Now we have Netflix and with a music head on, Spotify – we have unbundled everything and we expect our politics to be the same.

Stream a track one day, buy an album the next, sign up to watch House of Cards, then unsubscribe, all mixed in with a bit of Popcorn Time and a box set.

Big politics has lost the trust of the people that is clear. So folks don’t expect any one group to have the answer. Moreover, people don’t believe it when they say do.  Look at how this week Labour sounded like the Tories and vice versa. How can one party be right about everything if even Google doesn’t know everything? The answer has to come from many sources – that is digital behaviour. That is coalition government – they are an aggregation service, bringing multiple view points under their ever widening umbrella.

The days of a party winning enough seats to govern alone are likely over for a very long time. Ironically, the logical conclusion of the unshackling capitalism from all constraints under the banner of it being better for the consumer, giving them a choice, will now have the service political parties offer being subject to the same logic. Their monopoly is being broken up and digital consumer power means that they will never get it back.

Politics has been unbundled.


9 Innovative Uses Of Capital Letters Every Marketer Should Know

I used to be a big fan of LinkedIn. I signed up early. It had a lot going for it. It wasn’t Facebook primarily. It seemed useful.
Then it started. And it hasn’t stopped.
Just this morning:
‘The Only Metric That Matters For The Product You’re Building’
‘Designing A Great Photography Website’
Need I Go On?
Well no, I shall no longer stand for it. LinkedIn is awash with bargain basement business advice and psycho-babble.  Much of it is like a 20 handicap golfer giving you swing tips. (My 5 Tips For Slicing Wildly Off The First Tee ). All of it delivered in Capital Letters to show it isn’t random warblings of a failed MBA student,  But Really Scientific And Important.
When did this happen? It must have been creeping along for years. I think it’s American in its origin. I will generalise and  blame popular business books by Gladwell et al for its rise.
Please if you are going to deliver Bon mots of sage business advice can you at least write the title properly. I may then think you know what you’re doing rather than recycling reheated business bollocks like you’ve come down from the mountain with it inscribed in stone.
Rant over.
Now on with some real work…
7 Secrets Of How To Fart And Blame The Dog.

Did digital kill the ECD star?

I see that Tom over at M&C (http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/news/1332191/should-agencies-away-ecds/) has jettisoned their ECD in favour of a flatter Creative Director structure. Unsurprisingly this has caused much gnashing of teeth. What could this signify? The end of the ECD? OMG!

Tom and crew are digital advertisers by training. LMFM were up there with the best from a digital ad agency perspective. Now they have their hands on an old school ad agency.  I’m sure this is a big part of the questioning of the move – is it a pesky digital plan to destroy advertising from the inside?!
What is undoubtedly true is that digital as a craft of making things is the art of smashing stuff together. It’s a messy bugger. Making the role of an ECD one not as easy as it used to be.
When agencies try to find the single source of creative vision this can be like looking for a Unicorn at Brigadoon. With most agencies now working hard to be so broad, how do you find one person that can pull that together? The threats are everywhere – Accenture to the smallest product start up to internal client capability is putting agencies under pressure. That makes it a tough job.
Also – typically, ECDs are paid quite well. When their value is even in question for a millisecond it becomes an easy decision.
I thinks Tom’s move is a digital one in as much as it’s not afraid to change stuff. No sacred cows. He could just as easily hire a CCO next week. It could be that the incumbent just wasn’t doing it for them. No big industry statement.
Wait till a big agency appoints a business consultant to the leadership team, then we really will see the ad industry look in the mirror and ask itself if it recognises itself anymore.

Bye Dad

My dad, Frank Alfred Woodard, died today. He was 83 and 3/4. Born on 23rd September 1930 and lasted all the way to June 10th 2013. I’m writing this as i’m a jumble of thoughts and memories. I wanted to jot them down, give them the gravitas of the written word. 

Firstly, he was happy that he was the longest living Woodard man. The male line of the Woodard is not given to long lives with the average being the late 60’s. Secondly, he will be furious that he didn’t get to ‘still be playing golf when i’m 86 and shooting my age’.

He died peacefully this afternoon. He wasn’t in pain. He just simply stopped. His body finally not able to keep up with his stubborn refusal to die attitude. Always was a stubborn old sod. 

Some facts and figures. He was married for nearly 63 years to my mum and the love of his life, Pat. Married in 1952, the day before my mum turned 20. Two boys, the first in ’61 and the second in ’69. Apparently, they liked not rushing into anything. 6 grand children. Multiple sets of golf clubs. a thousand ever so slightly crappy cars. He sat with me and we watched every World War 2 movie ever made and shown on a Sunday. He taught me snooker, billiards and darts. He taught me that a Brown and Mild was drink to be reckoned with.  

He was born in 1930. He was 9 when war broke out. That was when he left school to work at the family business in Green Street Market on their fruit and veg stall. He learned to drive shortly after. He wasn’t evacuated. Instead staying in heavily bombed East London, playing in the bomb craters and watching the Spitfires have dog fights in ’41 during the Battle of Britain.  That is some childhood right there. 

War ended, he was 15. A few years later National Service beckoned. He was a driver and footballer. A West Ham boy through and through. Good enough to be on their books, going up the ranks until an ankle injury ended that alternative life. He was proud that an ancestor, Dapper Dan Woodard had been the captain in the early part of the century at West Ham and was the groundsman at the ground the night a V2 fell onto the pitch. 

He became a ‘diesel fitter’. A mechanic on lorries as i understood it. He met my rather glam (but short) mum. They courted. They got married. How they met and arranged to meet up without mobile phones, email, Facebook and WhatsApp, i can only guess. She was the daughter of a Butcher. What more could you want? Fresh veg and ready access to decent meat. 

They lived in Colne Street, not far from Upton Park. I can only imagine how grotty it must have been post war, the bombed out, Victorian terraces with outside toilets. They stayed until they had my brother. Then, they were offered to move to a New Town in Essex. 

They took the leap for a better life. Dad had a job that was moving to Essex. Basildon was positively a country life back then, but with mod cons. He worked for Charringtons Coal and then Calor Gas – keeping their lorries on the road. It was skilled, honest, working class work. He worked his nuts off. Never turning down overtime, often working 7 days a week, always 6. 

Lightning did indeed strike twice in the same spot and i was born in July ’69 a few days before the moon landing. To this day i feel the news was distracted that week. 

We lived in a place called Northey in Laindon. A safe, engineered environment with families who were all East End refugees. I had loads of freedom. When you dad has grown up playing with UXB’s laying around, they are fairly lax on the health and safety front.

The 70’s were a blur of Pontins Holiday Camp at Camber Sands, staying at nans caravan at All Hallows in Kent, Mrs Beasley’s in Cornwall, and just the once, a holiday in Guernsey where we ate endless fresh crab sandwiches.  All this peppered with lots and lots of football. He worked so hard for us, that he reveled in the time he had with me and my older brother, Keith. 

I remember he took me to Leicester Square to see the Jungle Book. Just me and him. Little did i know i was about to inherit two of his traits. Firstly, leaving stuff behind. We left the Jungle Book souvenir he had ought me behind in the cinema. Secondly, dropping any food down our front (which afflicts all Woodard men, including my children to this day).

In the mid-70s my brother took up Golf. Needing no encouragement my dad joined in. Taking to it with a passion, joining Royal St. Bas (Basildon Public Golf Course). It would shape much of which has happened over the last 30 odd years.

Our house in Northey was a cheaply built, concrete prefab type of thing that began to fall apart. Dad and Mum heard of plans to build a new type of housing estate, it was called Noak Bridge. It was being modeled on a country village. By this time, my bro was thinking of turning pro at golf. A golf trip to Ireland, a chance meeting and a job offer and he was off. Just like that.  So we moved to Noak Bridge in 1980 as a family of three. I was about to go to senior school.

He took me to the Charity Shield Final between West Ham and Liverpool in 1980 at Wembley, in the August. after Sir Trevor Brooking had scored the winner against Arsenal in the FA Cup the previous May. At that time youngsters, Liverpool won stuff. Lots of stuff. I remember we were walking the Wembley Way, on the way up to the famous old twin towers, when 2 Liverpool fans told him that we couldn’t go to that end as it was the Kop end of Wembley. I’d never heard my dad really swear like that before. He left them two scousers in no doubt what he thought of their Kop end and where they could stick it. We lost 1-0. Typical Hammers…’fortunes always hiding, i’ve looked everywhere’

Dad was working hard. He was a shop steward at Calor. He ended up working nights as it paid better. I recall, the Coryton refinery and how it glittered of a night from the view in Stanford-Le-Hope. He had work accident and screwed his back up.We had started to holiday in Ireland to visit my bro and he started to have kids;v Nicky, Jason and then Siran. Dad had three grandchildren. He fell in love with the South West of Ireland. 

I completely bamboozled Dad and Mum by announcing that i was going to art college in 1987. My dad had left school so young, they really had no opinion on education. It was whatever we wanted to do. I started off doing 3 A levels and dropped two of them, ended up with crappy pass in Art. Not once did they bollock me. They had not context. They came from a background where you went to work to earn to live. Now, i look back and know my dad had a love of history, especially military history. I wish that he could have had a life where he had the opportunity to do something with that, rather than just devour books at home.

in ’88 i started seeing the love of my life, Lisa. Lisa started to visit the house. Dad was always on studiously good behaviour when Lisa was round. Even once famously going to the kitchen to fart, which was so loud, he could have been a mile away and it wouldn’t have changed the sonics. 

I confused them even more by then going to Farnham to do a degree in Ceramics. I’m certain that they were freaked out and simply didn’t really get it. But they were happy for me. Happy i was happy. In ’92, i was in the run to my degree show. I remember that i simply ran out of money. I could not afford to get to my degree show. I asked Dad and Mum down to Farnham. We walked around Frensham Ponds. I asked them for, if i recall, £400 so i could finish. I knew it was a lot of money for them. They didn’t hesitate. 

When i graduated in 92, they came to the graduation ceremony. I could see he was bursting with pride. It was a photo of them on that day, we put next to one from their wedding day on their Golden anniversary. 

Lisa and I moved into together in 93 in Ealing. By now dad was going to retire. His back was knacked. He had a good full final salary pension from Calor. In the mid 50’s, he has tried to persuade mum to move to Australia. London was still on rations, it must have seemed a great move. Mum couldn’t do it. So when he said he wanted to move to Ireland and retire there, he got his wish.

They moved to Killarney that Christmas. The next phase of his life was beginning. 

He bloody loved it. He got a job driving American golf tourists around the courses of the South West. He adored it. He was playing golf, seeing his grandchildren, drinking Guiness. He was happy. And the truth is, he was having a better retirement than he ever would have had in Essex. 

Lisa and I finally got around to getting married in 2004. He loved every minute of the whole weekend they spent in Blackheath. Their newest grandchild was 20 months old. 

He was getting older and now had a another grandchild, Marc. He was still playing golf, watching and reading history books and watching his beloved Hammers whenever they were on the TV. The he started to get ill. Prostate Cancer was diagnosed. He had a pacemaker fitted. His body was, annoyingly, starting to not play along. 

2005 and Miles, his last grandchild came along. Completing the 6. He was over the moon.

He made it to 80 in 2010. A big two fingers up to the usual Woodard timeline. 

He made it to his Diamond wedding anniversary in 2012.  He loved mum as much as day one. 

I saw him four weeks ago. The last time i saw him. He was obviously ill. He was fighting a losing battle. He knew it, but that didn’t stop him fighting. My last words to him was that I loved him, that i was proud of him.

I don’t mourn his passing. I celebrate his life. He came from a tough place and made a good life for himself and his family. He worked hard. He was honest. He loved mum and he was an emotional old coot, all too easily welling up when family was involved.

Not long ago, i found an old Super8 movie. On it was a 3 minute film of a trip to Ireland Lisa and I made, must have been in the late 90’s. There is a scene where as they walk up the hill to their house, they are gurning for the camera. Silly walks and everything. That was my dad.

A life lived.

Rest now dad. Have a sweet soul dream. You’ve earned it. 

Love forever.




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.