Just Stop It: Asking for my Date of Birth

Just Stop itIt’s interesting, government departments in many countries cannot ask for any personal information unless it is needed for the services they provide. Why can internet sites get away with this? Your date of birth is a critical piece of identity information, but it’s absolutely not necessary to register for a website.

A number of websites ask you your birth date as part of their registration process, including – as shown in the above example – Yahoo!

Yahoo! in this case tries to soften the blow by promising to provide me with a “better experience”. Let me translate what that means; they will guess based on your age which ads should be served to you. So if you’re in your thirties, and perhaps visit a baby clothes site, you’ll get baby ads, if you’re over forty five it’ll be hair-loss and menopause remedies. Get older and it’s incontinence pads. As if you couldn’t search for such products without their help.

In my case I lie, I have a birth date that I use as my “internet birthday”. Which means I’ll get the incontinence pad ads a little late.

Repeated Social Media Fails


In a month where a “beach body ready” campaign hit the news in the UK with people taking to twitter to protest,  an ANZAC campaign went wrong in Australia and Baltimore erupted over every media outlet, not just the social ones, I spotted two social media fails that were not just stupid, they were repeats of earlier fails.

People make mistakes, I get it, I have a long list of my own mistakes that I’m not publishing. This is a reminder to pay attention to your social media posts, and to think before you post.

1 Bad Reaction

A burger bar owner lost his cool with a customer on Facebook. His rant is laden with insults, bizarre comparisons and swear words.

What did the customer do to deserve this?

She sent a private message saying that her son had had an upset stomach with vomiting following a meal at the burger bar. She finished her message with “Just wanted you to be aware. We thought the burgers were fantastic and know it’s probably a one-off”.

The reaction is about 20:1 in favour of the customer, with many commenters declaring they’ll never eat there.

We’ve seen this before, back in 2013 Amy’s Baking Company was visited by Gordon Ramsay in his show Kitchen Nightmares. The restaurant in question responded in flurry of furious facebook posts and it all went downhill from there. As Forbes later pointed out in their lessons on social media; Don’t Insult People. I’d go further; don’t tweet when you’re mad.

2 Fired Before you Start

A single mum landed a job at a daycare centre but before she could start the centre changed their decision and she’s out of a job. Why?

She complained online about hating working at daycare centres and she doesn’t like being around kids all the time. It didn’t take long for those comments to reach the day care centre, and they rescinded their offer.

This has happened before, famously a young woman tweeted;

She learnt the hard way that companies monitor social media, that what you say on a social media channel is public – and permanent, and what you say could be damaging.

These incidents were all avoidable if the posters had thought through the impact of their words. A former colleague who was expert in digital security used to say that everything you put online is “public and permanent”. That means that the list of people who can see your post isn’t just the friends you tag; it’s your boss, future boss, future girl/boyfriend, brother, colleague, journalist, neighbour and your mum.

Think before you post.

Social Media Disaster

I can’t believe this really happened.

Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 1.29.15 PM
Kmart tweets about the massacre of school children in Newton, and adds a promotional hashtag.

But it did, Business Insider carried the story along with people’s reaction. Kmart’s explanation is that they were ending the #Fab15Toys campaign in light of the Newton events, I don’t think anyone reading the tweet would have understood that.

At the time of 9/11 my company was about to run a TV ad campaign in the US. Not only did we not run the campaign (on the basis the timing would have been insensitive), we donated the TV time to Red Cross. It’s a story that’s never made the news – because creating PR about doing the right thing is ugly. I really struggle to understand how a company like Kmart with all the resources in the world can make such an insensitive communication error.

Not only is it incredibly insensitive there are precedents, two that come to mind are;

  • Kenneth Cole suffered backlash in 2011 when he tweeted an insensitive comment connecting the uprisings in Cairo to the new spring collection. He apologised.
  • Gap tweeted about Hurricane Sandy and shopping – in the same message. And later apologised

Do these companies think that any publicity is good publicity  – or are they really that stupid?

Every company using social media should have a content plan and set of standards around it. Every company should have a crisis communication plan that includes social media channels. Check yours today – make sure it includes something like;

In a time of crisis or natural disaster not directly connected do [insert company name here] you may tweet messages of support.

– Do not combine the hashtag of that event with any company promotional hashtag or link.

– Before you hit send think “how would a victim feel reading this tweet?”

Discuss it with your social media team, show them the impact, add it to your social media training. Keep doing this until they get the message – it’s not OK to promote your product on the back of a trending crisis hashtag.

YouTube and Fraud; they don’t care.

Right now there is a video hosted on YouTube that is part of a real estate scam.

How do I know this? Because the real estate scam uses my company’s name, and someone emailed me a complaint.

The scam works by posting an advertisement online offering an apartment in a great location at a low rental rate. If you respond you are asked to send two or three months rent/bond and promised the keys once the money is received. Of course the apartment doesn’t exist, and you will never see the keys. Or your money for that matter.

So I tried to alert YouTube to this legal problem, but because my company’s name does not appear in the video I alerted them to a scam. I sent my email in English. For some reason I got two responses in Dutch. Fine. I responded to one explaining that the video was part of a fraud, and attaching the original complaint email.

I got another answer in Dutch, telling me that YouTube has developed a number of channels where I can report an issue with a video. The option most closely matching my question is “For other potential abuse or security issues please visit our Abuse and Safety Center”

So I click on that option, which takes me to a set of country links… but only five countries. Which is weird, but the underlying information is about what spam/phishing are, than any tool to allow me to report an issue.

Report Spam and Phishing in US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand

So I’ve tried twice to alert YouTube to a video that is part of a fraud, but it does not appear that a real person has read the emails or certainly no action has been taken. Meanwhile the video has got another two hundred views.

Of course I am taking responsibility for resolving this because there is a reputational issue for my company, but how can I get YouTube to take responsibility for what is also a reputational issue for them?

And for the 900+ viewers of the video, how many of them will lose money before YouTube wakes up and takes action?

post script one week later; video still there with 1322 views

post script one month later; video still there with 1705 views

post script June 2013; video still there with 1948 views, reporting system improved and incident reported once again.

post script September 2013; video still there with 2499 views, reporting system improved and incident reported once again. YouTube say 24 hour review. I’ve been trying this for almost a year.


I went to a new cafe for lunch with my team this week. I can’t go there again.

The people were friendly and helpful, the premises are newly fitted out and rather designed looking. The food was good. But the organisation was so terrible I can’t go back. An example; the server took my order which was a takeaway order. Then took the orders of five other people. Then cleared some tables. Then sorted out drinks for another table. Then asked me to pay. I had been standing there with my wallet in my hand the whole time.

My guess is that this newly-opened cafe was started by a couple of people who like to cook, but have never run a cafe with high demand before.

There’s a cafe around the corner which serves hot food within about 3 minutes of reaching the counter. They’ve made the process as simple as they can; there’s a limited (but changing) selection, you pick up your own cutlery, the price is fixed. The result is speed – important to their clients who are on a short break from the office. It also means they serve more clients in the short lunch “rush”. That’s got to be better for business.

It got me thinking; how often do companies (or projects) start with the “beautiful picture” of what their business could be and ignore the reality? How is it that we can ignore what is really obvious to our customers?

Maybe it’s because we don’t ask – for example the data behind the “Perception Gap” infographic shows; 76% of social marketers feel they know what their customers want – although only 34% of them have asked customers what they want. So my restaurant problem scales up. Frightening.





image lunch

Infographics Rant

I am sick of infographics.

There I said it.

So what is an infographic? Wikipedia gives this definition;

Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. With an information graphic, computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians develop and communicate concepts using a single symbol to process information.

There are infographics that are useful, the stylised subway maps are much easier to use than a true and accurate map would be. They are also fantastic for visualising huge amounts of data, it would take volumes to convey the information that Hans Rosling gets across in his data visualisations. Here’s his explanation of improving health in history, but all his videos are fascinating.

Recently there has been a fashion for infographics, and there is now a plethora of infographics on every conceivable subject;

Social media seems to be a particularly fertile ground for infographics, with 29 million results for the search query “infographics social media” which is about 10 million more than for “infographics” alone. Here’s a selection from pinterest.

The use of infographics is spreading and some are now thinly disguised advertising material including the most pointless graphic I’ve found (so far) is the “what your luggage says about you” one. Which offers the startling conclusion that a woman with a stroller is a multi-tasking mum, someone with carry-on is on business, and someone with a backpack is not.

There are too many pointless infographics out there, ones that;

  • use very long images that require you to scroll to the bottom of the page,
  • that present data in rather suspect ways such as 3D bar graphs
  • make rather dodgy connections between data sets
  • present information that could as easily been presented in a single paragraph or a short list
  • one last complaint – what’s with the use of retro styling?

Just before I got completely fed up with infographics I found a fabulous selection of infographics that specifically mock infographics. Very meta, very 2012.


image infographics

Pointing South

HSBC posterThere’s so much wrong with this poster.

It’s an ad for HSBC I spotted in the airbridge at Athens airport. It shows a terracotta warrior, most definitely from China, wearing Havaianas, famously Brazilian. The slogan says “South-South trade will be norm not novelty”.

Well we can get the grammar out of the way, norm and novelty need articles in this sentence structure so it should read “South-South trade will be the norm, not a novelty”.

But the thing that struck me most forcefully, and prompted me to rummage for my camera on the way down the airbridge was the implication that China is South. It’s not, it is entirely in the northern hemisphere, and Beijing is further north than Athens.

Maybe HSBC wanted to reference the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China), but that makes no sense – of the four Brazil is the only nation that is in the southern hemisphere and even then small parts of the north part of the country are above the equator.

Maybe they meant that trade between the southern hemisphere nations will become normal – except it already is. Unsurprisingly nations tend to trade with their nearby countries so Australia is big trading partner for New Zealand, and Chile is a major trading partner for Brazil. (According to the US State department site). And if it’s China’s role HSBC were seeking to advertise – they’re already a big trading partner for Australia, Brazil, South Africa and New Zealand. In other words; it’s already normal, not a novelty.

In any event the sign is part of the bank’s “in the future….” branding; maybe in the future HSBC will use an atlas before they write the copy for their campaigns.

image: compass

Three Cheers For The Geeks

Being a Geek makes you more productive, according to Chris Garrett, whose own geek credentials are impeccable. He points out that thinking about systems applies to problems outside computer systems, and that outsourcing to give yourself more think time is a great approach and not lazy at all.

My first study was in science (Biochemistry if you must know) and I have long held that the analysis skills and process thinking from this study have helped me since then in unrelated fields. I work with geeks and given that a lot of my job is about designing and managing websites I’m sure I have a small and happy inner geek.

So I’m really happy to see a positive take on what Geeks may bring to work.

And if you’re not sure whether you qualify as geek try this online test to check (hint being female automatically scores you extra points).

Image: Geek

Internet for content

I firmly believe that content is the most important part of a website, and that visitors are more likely to repeat their visits to your site for new content rather than great design or cool widgets. So when I read “CHART OF THE DAY: The Internet Is Finally, Primarily A Content Platform” I was cheered.

I opened up the chart, at first glance it seemed great, but when I squinted at it a little more I wasn’t so sure.

So I went through their figures of actual time spent on each of their activities and my graph looks a little different.

It seems to me that some of the “communications” we were doing in 2003, we are in 2009 doing under the community category. This makes sense; my sunday brunchers sort out time and place via facebook – whereas once we would have used email or in really ancient times called each other. I use flickr rather than email to share photos (although I might still email people the link) and aren’t we all tweeting now?

I also took a look at the change, and here the obvious winners are community and content.  Community has gone from zero to 181 minutes per month of our online time. Of the 413 extra minutes per month that we’re spending online 196 of them are in consuming content. If this change continues it won’t be long before content really is king.

Election Results Only a Little Bit Wrong

The Iranian authorities have admitted that there are some discrepancies in the election results.

Apparently the results in “only fifty cities” are wrong with more votes being recorded than eligible voters. Which seems in direct contrast to the announcement of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said 3 days ago that “the Islamic Republic would not cheat“.

There are, according to Wikipedia, around 250 cities in Iran, so apparently a 20% error rate is acceptable. Of these cities only 80 or so have a population greater than 100,000. So depending on which cities have the “errors” there could be an error rate even higher if taken on a population basis, it’s possible that 30% of Iranians cannot trust their local polling office based on the errors admitted.

But we should not worry – the number of “extra” votes was a mere 3 million, not enough to change the outcome of the election in an electorate with a total of 40 million voters. In other words even if there were no extra votes Ahmadinejad would still have won.

Anyway why are we worrying? No one protested like this when the US 2004 presidential election results were questioned. Yes, seriously that is an argument the Iranians are using in their defense. To quote;

“No one encouraged the American people to stage a riot” because they disagreed with the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004, he said.

Hmmm, it was the 2000 election that was seriously questioned, but then there were some transparent legal steps and an independent court that ultimately decided the outcome of the election. Even so, there was significant outrage at various pre-election and election counting practices.

In both elections foreign journalists commented and various citizens published their own voice of protest, as far as I know Michael Moore was never imprisoned/arrested/beaten/shot.

The top advisors in Iran don’t seem to get it. If there is any evidence of tampering for some of the votes, then no-one can trust any of the votes.

Admitting the election was a little bit wrong is like a woman saying she’s a little bit pregnant. Nonsense.