Podcast: Viral Rhymes

The BBC World Service Business Daily version of my piece on Nursery Rhymes: History’s Most Viral Startup? (The Business Daily podcast is here; the original piece is here.)  

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To listen to Business Daily on the radio, tune into BBC World Service at the following times, or click here.

 Australasia: Mon-Fri 0141*, 0741 

East Asia: Mon-Fri 0041, 1441 
South Asia: Tue-Fri 0141*, Mon-Fri 0741 
East Africa: Mon-Fri 1941 
West Africa: Mon-Fri 1541* 
Middle East: Mon-Fri 0141*, 1141* 
Europe: Mon-Fri 0741, 2132 
Americas: Tue-Fri 0141*, Mon-Fri 0741, 1041, 2132

Thanks to the BBC for allowing me to reproduce it as a podcast.

Nursery Rhymes: History’s Most Viral Startup?

(This is a copy of my weekly column for newspapers and radio.)

As the father of a child born in the era between the first and second iPads, I am made acutely aware that technology is driving baby rearing–just as it is driving everything else. But I find the field surprisingly uneven.

Nappies, for example. They’re definitely easier than in my day: Even I can change one. They carry logos of Winnie the Pooh and other lovable characters–all presumably a little surprised to find themselves so close, as it were, to the waterline. There are little adhesive strips on the side and wingtips for extra coverage and flair. All very nice, but I’m surprised not to find sensors, in there to register changes in, er, volume or aroma.

After all, we’ve got digital thermometers, digital bottle warmers, digital breastpumps, digital sterilizers, digital swings. I’ve counted more than 100 iPhone programs, or apps, simply for nursery rhymes. A British company has just launched an application that will let a harried father, marooned at work, recite a nursery rhyme over his iPhone which is then synchronized with a remote iPad application where his bed-ready daughter can watch the simulated action unfold—Jack falling down the hill, Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall, Baa Baa Black Sheep taking orders for wool.

I’m all for this: Walking into a baby store now is little different to walking into an electronics store.  I’d love to see more of this: I already record little ditties that then loop around so I can go wander off and prepare milk, brush my teeth, write columns, before my offspring notices. It’s not exactly quality time but the recording quality is excellent.

The bit that I don’t get are the nursery rhymes. Everything else is so, well contemporary, and we’re singing ditties that go back to the 14th century? Most of them of questionable taste: throwing people down the stairs for not saying their prayers? Cutting off tails? Marching soldiers up and down hills for no good reason?

I wondered whether this kind of thing was what I wanted my little cherub to know about. So I looked into it. Turns out, as you may know, that a lot of these rhymes were politically subversive. Often they were dangerous parodies of the ruling class. By making them look like they were for kids not only made them seem harmless, but made them easier to pass around and thereby spread.

It was then I realised that nursery rhymes were the social media of their day—a way to distribute information through peer networks with some protection from the powers that be. When one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 gave a sermon on Blackheath he started, simply, with a two line rhyme, asking whether any ruling class existed in the Garden of Eden: “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” This was easy to grasp and easy to pass on, and the movement grew.

Nursery rhymes as a  harbinger of the political power of Facebook and Twitter? As long as we keep learning the words to Goosey Goosey Gander I guess we’ll have to acknowledge their abiding power. Helped on, a little, by our iPads, iPhones and other digital rearing technologies. I stand corrected: Still going centuries on, nursery rhymes are about as viral a technology as you can get.

Patriot Hacker The Jester’s Libyan Psyops Campaign

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Is the Jester, a patriotic hacker better known for bringing down allegedly jihadist websites, injecting fake news strories about Libya to demoralize Gaddafi’s forces? Anthony Freed of infosec reckons so. Very good piece, and opens up all sorts of interesting avenues for dark hacktivism.

Sharing on Evernote

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Despite some competition, Evernote still owns the space where we save stuff we might need for ourselves. But is it up to the task of our increasingly collaborative world? I’ve gotten a bit confused about what can and can’t be synced and shared and with whom so I asked them. This is what I think I learned: (some corrections made after checking with Evernote)

Syncing between devices

  • If you’re a free user, anything you add on any device can be viewed (and edited) on any other device.
  • If you’re a premium user then you’ll be able to download and store offline all notes to your Android or iPhone.

Sharing notes

Notes can be emailed to other users.

As of today it’s possible to share a note with anyone via the web app (desktop apps soon) via the share button:

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which allows you to share via Facebook (and later Twitter etc) as well as via a link which can be pasted elsewhere. Others will not be able to edit this shared link, but any changes you make to the original note will update the shared page.

Sharing notebooks

(this is where I might be off the mark. Expect corrections)

  • Any notebook can be shared with any other user via any app.
  • One of you needs to be a premium user for others to be able to add to the notebook.
  • If you’re on the web app (just redesigned; very nice) and/or a Mac, any additions or edits any shared user makes will sync to the others’ devices. (Other platforms coming soon; the pre-release version of Windows includes this feature already.)
  • Any imported files or watched folders will also be synced between users if one of the users is premium.  (Free users are limited to to text, audio, images, and PDFs. If the contents of the shared notebook/watched folders are limited to those file types, then any user can share them. If the file types go beyond that, or if the sharer wants recipients to edit the content, then the individual that’s sharing the notebook must be Premium.)

Footnote

Three things I asked Evernote if they might work on:

  • Drag and drop doesn’t seem to work for copied text and images. Just copy some text from a page and drag it over into Evernote. It used to. Evernote answer: fair point. We’ll look into it.
  • I feel Evernote has fallen behind on the ability to extract the relevant content from a web page and copy that, without all the extraneous stuff.  Readability and Thinkery.me do this very well (the latter, brilliantly; a Chrome plugin lets you merely right click a link for Thinkery to rush off and grab the salient text and save it.) Evernote answer: fair point. We’ll look into it.
  • Revive the timeband. I loved that thing. Evernote answer: any 3rd party developers interested in doing it?  

PR Stands for Presumptious

This is the kind of email that drives me nuts. The subject field:

Can you teleconference w/ xxxxx Software April 7 or 8?

The first line:

Mark xxxxx, CEO of xxxxx Software, would like to teleconference with you Thursday, April 7th or Friday, April 8th. Can you suggest a couple of times and dates that work for you to speak with Mark?

I’ve never heard from this flak before, she has no idea of what I cover, she jumps right in pushing a teleconference on me (when was it just called a phone call?) and the whole thing smacks of foot-in-the-door salesmanship.

PR needs to be attuned to the journalist’s needs, not the CEO’s desperate craving to fill his schedule with interviews just because his flak is pushy.

I’m considering a sideline: cut a deal with PR flaks to do interviews to keep CEOs quiet and then charge them for it. Any takers?

Has Quora Peaked?

This chart of traffic to Quora from Google Trends suggests that interest in Quora hit a peak in mid January and has fallen off sharply since then. I thought they did a great job of building not only interest but in getting interesting, cool, knowledgeable people in early on, so as content grew in size and quality, so did people’s appetite for invites. But what happens next?

Is there a danger that the more people come on board, the less impressive the content? Is Quora an example of how social media doesn’t always scale? (I’m beginning to ask the same question of comments on news websites, which have deteriorated markedly in the past couple of years.)

Anyway, I wish Quora luck, but I suspect one plank in their platform is going to have to be mobile. I want to be able to look at Quora and ask questions of it on the move, and right now, at least on Android, it’s only a third party app that lets me do that.

Podcast: Leaky Information

The BBC World Service Business Daily version of my piece on leaky information (The Business Daily podcast is here.)  

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

To listen to Business Daily on the radio, tune into BBC World Service at the following times, or click here.

 Australasia: Mon-Fri 0141*, 0741 

East Asia: Mon-Fri 0041, 1441 
South Asia: Tue-Fri 0141*, Mon-Fri 0741 
East Africa: Mon-Fri 1941 
West Africa: Mon-Fri 1541* 
Middle East: Mon-Fri 0141*, 1141* 
Europe: Mon-Fri 0741, 2132 
Americas: Tue-Fri 0141*, Mon-Fri 0741, 1041, 2132

Thanks to the BBC for allowing me to reproduce it as a podcast.

Comment Apologies

Just want to apologize to everyone who has been posting comments over the past year or so and not see them appear. I wasn’t censoring; I just wasn’t aware that they were all going into a spam queue and that I wasn’t being notified. My fault, and I’ve posted as many as I can. Thanks for all the comments and sorry I wasn’t there to post them and reply at the time. I shall try to do better, and move this whole circus over to WordPress as soon as I can. 

Google Voice Blog

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I seem to have missed the fact that Google Voice is now available outside the U.S. Seems to work well, too, and, at least in my part of the world, half the price of Skype. With Skype’s growing footprint on my desktop, I’m all for dumping the klutz where I can.