Homo homini rodentius est

Lies, Damned Lies… and Public Relations

Supposedly, Mark Twain coined the phrase, “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies… and Statistics.” Had he lived long enough he would surely have expanded his list to include Public Relations — the professional discipline devoted to stretching truth to its breaking point. Which brings us to the Mozilla Foundation. I was always suspicious of the fact that they never made a big deal about the adoption rates for the Firefox browser — only numbers of downloads. Anyone with an ounce of brains knew that was meaningless: downloads don’t equal adoption and until very recently the only way you could update the software was by doing a full download, which could only inflate the numbers. What didn’t make sense was that despite the humongous download numbers they bandied about, the market share of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer on the Net continues to hover between 80 and 90% — just about mirroring the penetration of Windows on desktops worldwide.

Well, lo and behold, the Mozillers finally got around to [admitting] that 75% of people who ever downloaded Firefox abandoned it. Ouch! Gets you right in the pocket protector, doesn’t it? The “open source” solution to Microsoft’s dominant browser is finally dropping the PR charade and openly asking the community for input on how to increase adoption rates.

Speaking of PR, I’m always a little amazed that Google has been able to skate by on its obvious (to me, anyway) methods of promotion. Targeting an army of tech early adopters who are wary of blatant marketing, they very cagily avoid obvious promotion and advertising — but baby do they work that PR machine! To their credit, they have been very successful at creating good will among a population of notoriously prickly nerds by doing things like underwriting conferences like the [Personal Democracy Forum] and stoking anti-Microsoft fervor with the help of “independent” media channels like CNet and ZDNet. But, of course, there’s always a truth behind the PR — if you can find it.

Over-reliant on its single source of income (advertising), Google has made some feint attempts at expanding its product line into productivity apps designed, supposedly, to cut into Microsoft Office’s marketshare. There’s been practically zero adoption of these products by the business community but the tech press — dependent on companies like Google for their life lines to “news” — have been [promoting] them [non-stop]. So, you can imagine how surprised I was (not) when — at that very same conference mentioned above — I saw Kim Malone, of the Google AdSense team, giving a presentation using Powerpoint running on Windows! Not the souped up version of linux that people have said everyone at Google uses and not their homebrew Powerpoint competitor either!

Then, yesterday, I was looking at [this video] of a class on intro statistics being given at the Googleplex, and noticed that not only was the guy running the course using Windows and Powerpoint, he was recommending that Googlers use Excel because he didn’t trust either Open Office or Trix, the homebrew Excel competitor, to be able to do the simple stats calculations that the course required! The knowing giggles from the crowd in the room when he questioned the capabilities of Trix told me more about the viability of their “Office Killer” than any amount of overheated PR. Jeez, if you can’t get your own mutts to eat the dog food…

Which celebrity are you?

I got wind of a gizmo reading [Heida Biddle’s blog] that matches an uploaded pic of yourself to a database of celebrity faces. I submitted my passport picture and this is what it came up with, in descending order of match probability:

  • Pedro Martinez
  • Bridget Fonda
  • Eero Heinonen(?)
  • Anna Paquin
  • Nick Lachey
  • Maggie Smith

Finding out that I look most like Pedro Martinez was a bit of a surprise, given that I’m so white I glow in the dark. In fact, the matches actually increase in accuracy as you move right — truth be told, with a good wig, some eyeshadow and just the right shade of lipstick, I bear a striking resemblance to Nick Lachey…

Try it out: [MyHeritage Face Recognition]

Tech Porn

Somewhere along the way, perhaps the day that [Techcrunch] guesstimated that the launch of Apple’s iPhone had generated 700,000 sales (only off by about half a million!), or maybe it was when [Robert Scoble] turned his once-informative blog into the de facto Facebook FAQ, it dawned on me that what passes for tech journalism online has evolved into a relentless drumbeat of hype that is, essentially, nothing more than product public relations and marketing. I was going to say “free” public relations and marketing, but I don’t even know that to be true — so unreliable are the reputations and protestations of transparency from “journalists” who have popped up like mushrooms after a spring rain. As Jack Shafer says in [a column] today decrying the imminent demise of the reputation of the Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch’s notoriously heavy hand, it takes decades for a media source to build its reputation. There simply hasn’t been enough time to know how reliable most tech bloggers are. But even if no money changes hands, that doesn’t mean there isn’t implied value exchanged in the form of favors or just increased audience and ad revenue from boosting the current hot toy.

A few weeks ago there was a dust up on the Net because some sites in the Federated Media fold were on the take from Microsoft for a “conversational” brand campaign and did not disclose this to their loyal readers. But that was a pretty obvious case — easy to pick out. What is not so obvious is the general culture of under-the-radar, one-hand-washes-the-other marketing that masquerades as breathless enthusiasm for an endless parade of unproven, fly-by-night technologies and products that, more often than not, barely deserve a moment’s attention.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Rat’s Report Card

A benchmark of sorts: this will be the first month since this blog started a little over a year ago with over 50,000 page views (about 1,700 a day average). Those views came from about 20,000 readers in over 2,000 locations around the world (see Google Analytics map above). Looks like readers come from throughout the English-speaking world, and a few places beyond (welcome Makati!). The top 3 cities are New York, Los Angeles and London. Not bad for a general-interest blog written by an anonymous rat.

The BEST Best Music Video List

The period from the early 80’s to mid-90’s was an exceptional era in pop music. Coinciding with the broad penetration of cable and MTV in particular, suddenly there was a premium on how a song looked — style over substance, some complained. But also an unlimited palette provided to a generation of artists more varied than any seen before or since. The younger brothers and sisters of the 60’s generation took the liberties won by their siblings for granted and put them into practice. Powerful girls, perpetually angry and alienated boys and smoldering queers came out of the stylistically stagnant 70’s to face resurgent Conservatism, a culture of unbridled greed and AIDS. It was the end of a century and, like the fin de si├Ęcle period of the previous century, an opportunity to explore and exploit aesthetic excess. Punk, New Wave, New Romanticism, Hip Hop, Grunge all mixed together in an artistic abundance that cataloged the hope, despair and style of youth at the end of the 20th century. Here are 25 examples of the best of the lot.

Read the rest of this entry »

« Previous Entries   Next Entries »