I’ve found Twitter to be a fairly useful source of local news, so I’ve saved my home town’s name as a search. It’s amazing how much crap you end up seeing, whether it’s hashtag spamming (“Good morning #glasgow #helensburgh #milngavie I hope you have a great day”) or automated promos for adult dating sites (“The UK’s number one gay cruising site site welcomes Phillip from Milngavie”).
And then there’s this:
Those exact words have been tweeted dozens of times in the last few days. They’ve been posted by Gideon Brock and by Finn Donald, by Tiara Isabella and Emilio Lee, by Mira Megan and Nora Jennifer and dozens more. Each account has a photo and a bio and a bunch of unrelated tweets.
It’s fascinating to watch, because each of the tweeters is a bot. The bots are soldiers in the armies of fake accounts you can buy to make yourself look more popular than Stephen Fry, and the reason that they’re tweeting about my home town is because they’re scraping content to try and appear like legitimate accounts. They scrape tweets from here, names from there, photos from elsewhere and bios from yet more sources, and the disparate parts get glued together in an attempt to fool the fake-fighters.
The reason is simple enough. Bots work. Get enough bots talking about something and you can get your hashtag or word into the trending topics bit of Twitter, and if you can do that then real followers will follow. Buying a bot army is often easier, and always cheaper, than trying to get your topic to trend organically. According to the WSJ, the going rate for 1,000 followers is around $50.
As ever online, if it’s possible to game a system for financial reward then sooner or later someone will game it – and from then on it becomes an ongoing game of cat and mouse between the regulators – in this case the people who detect and deactivate fake accounts – and the people they’re trying to stop.
I hadn’t seen this before and it made me laugh: on Twitter the other day someone compared climate change deniers to a passenger on the Titanic. “Sinking?” the passenger said. “Nonsense! My bit of the ship is 500 feet in the air!”
This is Beloved, by Say Lou Lou. It’s a fantastic pop song that makes me think of ABBA, Robyn and the best bits of Girls Aloud.
Unfortunately, it’s a B-side. The A-side is this, which is perfectly nice, but it’s hardly in the same league.
They’re pushing the wrong song!
Record companies are weird.
I’m not usually shocked by local newspaper stories, but I was by this one: the famously affluent Glaswegian suburb of Milngavie now has a food bank.
I saw the story immediately after reading about the speech David Cameron will make today, in which he’ll invoke the spirit of the London Olympics and urge Scots to reject independence. You don’t need to be a dyed-in-the-wool Yes campaigner to think, “We’re better together? Really?”
A superb post by Baldur Bjarnason:
There’s this tendency among advocates to compare the absolute worst of the enemy with the perfect, best case scenario on your own side… [but] In terms of marketing, quality, distribution and design the difference between a competently published book and a competently self-published one is now less than you think.
Poptastic pop blog The Pop Cop wants to talk about Rachel Sermanni.
This week it emerged that Carrbridge singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni was fronting a Royal Bank of Scotland advertising campaign on YouTube, which sees her talk about the services she uses as well as play a new tune called Everything Is Ok. As a business, RBS have committed some disreputable deeds in the recent past, but 25 million UK customers still bank with them and Rachel is one of them.
Thanks to the ad, Sermanni might finally make some money from her music. Cue outrage. I think this sums it up:
It’s unlikely anybody will chastise us for the products and business chains we endorse, yet musicians seem to be judged by a completely different code of conduct especially when it comes to potential income streams.
Fair enough if you’re explicitly political – if Crass were to voluntarily appear in an ad for Santander I think we’d be justified in getting out the flaming torches – but for most musicians, music doesn’t pay the bills. As The Pop Cop says:
For the sake of a 150-second advert, Rachel is looking at breaking even for the first time in her career and a debt-free existence in which she will attempt to make a genuine living from her merchandise and her concerts. When that RBS offer was put in front of her to consider, it didn’t come with alternate choices of, say, The Co-Operative or L’Oréal (they’re a very ethical company, look it up) campaigns.
I’d have jumped at it.
Update, 23 January
BBC Radio Scotland presenter Tom Morton has posted a long piece about this, essentially arguing that you shouldn’t sully your art with the dread hand of commerce. As my friend Pet Piranha pointed out on twitter earlier, that’s rather undermined by the Google AdSense adverts for Natwest. He’s misquoted Hunter S Thompson too: the quote he’s used was about the television business, not music. As regular readers will know, it’s a double misquote: the “there’s also a negative side” was invented by someone on the internet.
I don’t disagree with everything Morton says, but I do wonder how far you have to take the ethical argument here: if you do as he says and do music in your spare time, financed by a day job, presumably you have to ensure that that meets the same ethical standards? By that measure, the copywriting I did for Natwest in 2004 means any music I make is tainted.
Endless apologies if you’ve posted a comment and it hasn’t appeared: I’ve just deleted 1,600-plus spam comments, and I may have missed a genuine comment or two. Sorry.
I thought the new year would be a good time to post a wee update on book sales: to date, I’ve shifted 35,284 ebooks. That’s mainly Coffin Dodgers, which has sold 14,679 copies against 18,461 promotional giveaways.
Looking at the figures there’s a definite downwards trend when it comes to the effectiveness of freebies: in 2011 giving away one free book generally led to two sales (because of the improved visibility via “people who bought X also bought…” links and so on), but by early 2013 that was down to one sale per three to five freebies. For the US, the figure had dropped to one sale per sixteen freebies in early 2013, and I’m sure it’s even worse now. Clearly unless you’re giving books away to promote other paid-for titles, giving ebooks away only works for a very short space of time.
One of the weird things about ebook publishing is the effect pricing has on royalties: by upping the price from 99p to £1.99 I’ve halved my sales figures, but I’ve doubled the royalty I get per book. It’s hardly shove-your-job money – CD is bringing in around £80 per month lately – but it’s still nice to have. As ever, thanks to everyone who’s bought or blabbed about my stuff.
Walt Mossberg, one of the world’s best known tech writers, has written about platforms and their defenders. While comparing tech firms’ fans to religious devotees is one of the oldest cliches in the book, he’s right about the behaviour of people who believe their choice of computer, smartphone or games console is superior to others’ choice of computer, smartphone or games console:
It’s really not okay to pour down personal hate and derision on people who happen to use and like a tech product that competes with the one you prefer. I’m pretty sure that kind of behavior violates the tenets of, you know, all the real religions. And it’s really over the top to become so devoted to a tech company that you can’t see the point of view of others who don’t buy, or even like, that company’s products.
Every tech writer is all too familiar with the oft-expressed idea that “the only explanation for a positive review of an Apple product is a payoff”, although I wish it were only limited to Apple things: in my experience, the payoff thing is levelled when you’re positive or critical about pretty much anything.
Pointing it out won’t make any difference, of course. As Douglas Adams famously wrote, when people suggest we try being nicer to one another they tend to end up nailed to trees.
Sorry if this blog’s felt a bit neglected lately: between family things and sorting out a new office (the arrival of baby Adam means I needed to find a new place to work; the room I’ve been using as an office needs to become a nursery now) I haven’t really had much non-work stuff to write about recently. Most of what I’ve wanted to say has been sayable, and said, in 140 characters on Twitter.
I’ve had a bit of a mixed year: Adam’s arrival was a high point, of course, as was finally putting some music out, but professionally it’s been pretty tough as many fine titles disappeared from newsagents and many utter bastards tried to build journalism businesses where everybody’s paid except for the journalists. I’m lucky to do what I do, but I’m unlucky to be working in an industry that’s going through very tough times – not just structurally as our eyeballs move from paper to screens, but economically too. I’ve lived through worse, but it’s still been a pretty rough ride.
I haven’t achieved as much outside work as I’d hoped either. This time last year I had two unfinished novels, a few short stories and a bunch of unfinished music in the pipeline; today, I have two unfinished novels, a few short stories and a bunch of unfinished music in the pipeline. The music’s only a few weeks old, but the unfinished writing is the same stuff I was talking about last year. I’ve lost my way with it a bit.
That’ll change in 2014: I’ve vowed to get my backside in gear and get more creative this year. There’s a whole bunch of new and generally fantastic DMGM music to finish, I’ve half a thriller (and potentially the beginning of a series) to finish writing, and I’ve also got the sequel to Coffin Dodgers bubbling away – although that latter one might not see the light of day in 2014, as I think the central crime is too dark for what’s supposed to be a fairly funny book. Might need to go back to the drawing board on that one.
Whatever 2014 brings, it’s going to be interesting – especially up here in Scotland where we get to decide whether we’re governed by a bunch of clowns in Westminster or if we’d rather be governed by our own home-grown clowns in Holyrood. So far I’m gravitating towards the latter, partly because of the relentlessly negative and misleading campaigning by Better Together (known internally as Project Fear), partly because of the ongoing cruelty of the current national government (a government the Scots voted overwhelmingly against), and largely because the referendum gives Scots the chance to do to their country what I’m always doing to computer kit: turn it off and back on again in the hope that it’ll work better afterwards. We’re living in interesting and potentially exciting times.
Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope you have a very happy Hogmanay and that 2014 brings you joy at ever turn. Happy new year.