Media Technology

Future’s launching two heavyweight sites

So says Rob Mead, and he knows things. They’re not live yet – the launch is scheduled for the Autumn – but TechDaily and TechTested sound really interesting. Me, I don’t know anything about them, but I do know some of the people beavering away on the sites in the background. Judging by their track record (and attitude to this internet malarkey) I’m quite excited by this news.

No doubt any jobs going will be advertised on Futurenet…

Media Technology

Apple can’t decide what constitutes “legitimate journalism”

Interesting court verdict in the US:

a California appeals court decided against Apple today in the company’s bid to force bloggers to turn over sources who leaked information about the Apple product codenamed “Asteroid”… the appeals court roundly rejected [Apple’s] notions as contrary to California’s reporter’s shield law and the state Constitution, effectively stating that it wasn’t Apple’s place to decide what constitutes “legitimate journalism,” and that Apple could have investigated the leak of trade secrets themselves without drawing the websites into the mix.


Another blog recommendation

I keep meaning to explain why various sites are on my blogroll, but I never have time to do it – so instead, from time to time I’ll highlight one and explain why it’s great. Today’s entry is Carlton Hibbert’s illustration blog: the talented Mr Hibbert is a designer/illustrator on .net magazine, and his blog talks about the magazine as well as highlighting the work of some impossibly clever illustrators.

Media Technology

High definition TV sucks

So says Mr Biffo, anyway. Is a slight improvement in picture quality worth the extra cash and the hassle of a constantly crashing Sky HD box?

If my sense of deflation could be measured in cows, it would be forty eight cows strong.

Media Technology

Engadget’s looking for writers…

…and yes, it’s a paid gig. The site’s looking for an afternoon/evening editor, night time editor and weekend editor for the main site, a morning and afternoon editor for the Mobile site, an HDTV expert and a podcast producer. Interested? Here’s what you need to do.


I trust I can rely on your dopes

One of the things that really bugs me is when street teams fill the internet with promotional crap while pretending to be Just Another Punter. It’s something I was going to be talking about on Radio Scotland this morning, but unfortunately time constraints meant we didn’t get to the problem of vested interests editing Wikipedia entries. Never mind, I can blog about it instead.

Stealth Marketing: Penny Arcade has been covering how it works in the games industry, while over at Metafilter they’ve spotted this ad by Epic records:

Do you blog, have lots of friends at your MySpace page, and love music?

Epic Records is looking for skilled, motivated interns to promote artists on social networking sites like MySpace, purevolume, Facebook & others.

This isn’t a new thing: since the initial success of Christina Aguilera – arguably the first artist who owes her career to street teams – everyone from unsigned indie bands to stadium bands has an army of (usually unpaid) marketing shills. As I wrote last year in .net:

A typical street team will lobby radio stations to play the new single, vote in every conceivable internet poll, and spread the word in chat rooms, message boards and weblogs. It’s very successful, but it’s also very controversial. Speaking to The Guardian about record companies’ teenybopper teams, John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers fumed: “It exploits children for the benefit of the record company alone. There are many ways of marketing to children, but these methods are unacceptable.”

Xavier Adam agrees. The md of the Adam Media Consultancy ( says: “Using children is not ethical… These tactics can and do backfire. They are seen as unethical by the public at large, despite what the industry may think.” He continues: “It’s a form of spam, although it is more targeted than general email spam.”

It’s not just record companies, though. One of the things I like about the net – one of its most important features – is its ability to let you see real opinions rather than corporate spin. Street teams put the spin back in, whether they’re fixing online polls, rewriting Wikis or reviewing books they haven’t read on Amazon.

On the subject of which, MetaFilter user NailsTheCat points to a very sensible suggestion for fixing Amazon’s reviews, which are prone to PR puffery and fanboy crap:

There is, in my opinion, only one solution to’s fraud-ridden book review system: Only customers who purchased the book from should be able to post a review on that book.

It all comes down to my favourite subject, the tragedy of the commons: whenever you’ve got something open to the public, a small minority will do their best to ruin things for everyone else.

Shills’ activities are self-defeating. For example, when I first used Amazon I used the reviews to help me find things I might be interested in; now, I assume every single one of them is written by an idiot or someone with a vested interest (unless it’s a review of a game or console that isn’t out for six months, in which case I *know* the review’s by an idiot). When I see an online vote for new bands, I assume the winner is the one who mobilised the most people, or who hit reload most often. And when I see a post praising some hitherto-unheard-of band, I assume it’s the singer’s girlfriend. I’m usually right.

There’s an irony here. Thanks to review sites, blogs, newsgroups and forums, I can get a wider range of opinion than ever before – but because corporate shills, fanboys and nut-jobs are doing a fine job of turning the wisdom of crowds into the mooing of herds, I rarely make buying decisions on the basis of strangers’ opinions. If anything, street teams and shills are turning back the clock for me: if I want to know about a game I’ll see what Edge and Eurogamer think, or ask my brother; if I want to know about gadgets, music, movies or TV I’ll again turn to reviewers and the people I know (both in real life and via this blog). While I do use the net, the sites I turn to are the ones that resemble traditional magazines: engadget, eurogamer and so on.

Put it this way: you’re considering a PlayStation 3. Here’s the verdict from “W from England” on

This beast of a console is nearly as powerful or as powerful as some computers. This shows the amount of effort that Sony have put into this Super console. From the disgin of the the look of the console to the smallist micro chip no expense has been spared and no short cuts have been taken. This Consle will more than likly blow away all the comption. The playstion 3 when speaking off the graphics and power is in a different league to microsofts X-box 360.

The games that i have seen are so life like that it will feel as thought you are in the game.

I can not what until the day the console comes out because ill be waiting at the door for the postman. Just order yours so you are no disappointed. You may have to book time off work or school that how important this console is!

I think I’ll wait for Edge’s verdict.


So you want to be a voiceover artist?

You’ve got a great voice. Why not use it to earn at least £50 per hour for voiceover work? That’s the promise made by UKVoices, whose ads turn up in the back pages of magazines such as Now.

The fact that the ad appears in Now should ring alarm bells immediately. Voiceover work is a branch of acting, and the trade magazine for the acting profession – the place where people advertise their jobs – is The Stage. To the best of my knowledge, Now is not regarded as the bible of the acting profession.

Let’s assume that UKVoices is just trying to find new talent, though. What’s the deal?

It’s simple enough. Sign up – it’s £20 – and you can record a brief showreel, which will then be downloaded by agents who are just gagging to take you on. UKVoices doesn’t charge any commission, which makes them very attractive to would-be employers.

Here’s the thing. If UKVoices tries to get people voiceover work, its employees are idiots.

Let me explain. If UKVoices doesn’t charge commission, it makes no money from getting people work. Its only source of income is sign-up fees, so it’s in the firm’s best interests to sign up as many people as possible, irrespective of whether they’re any good or not (and if you listen to the sound clips on the site, it’s clear that quality isn’t a key criteria). If the firm does anything other than bank the sign-up fee, it’s spending time and therefore money on something that won’t generate any return. That’d be madness.

A quick aside: staff agencies aren’t allowed to charge registration fees for that same reason (the relevant legislation only covers Employment Agencies). Instead, temp agencies take a fee, usually an hourly one. The more work you get, the more money they get. If you don’t get any work, they don’t get any money.

The truth is that voiceover work is like writing novels, getting a record deal or becoming a full-time journalist. It’s much harder than most people think. As the excellent Excellent Voice Company’s site points out:

There is a huge difference between people who have a nice voice, read aloud well or whose friends tell them that they ought to do voice-overs – and a professional voice over. Professionals understand that the smallest alteration in inflection can make the difference between success and failure, they understand why the client or director needs a particular style of read or performance. They appreciate the need to save time and know how to fit a forty second script into thirty seconds without it sounding like a machine gun.

Good voices develop a sense of timing in their heads. They can see a written script and tell you exactly how long it will take at an average read. They can sight-read to time without looking at the studio clock. They know how a scriptwriter’s mind works, how to get inside a script, and what to bring out, without having to have it spelled out for them.

This doesn’t mean to say that new voices don’t turn up on the circuit – but it does explain why so few really make it – they’ve got to be very, very good.

The advice continues:

To survive, any industry needs to recruit new talent – and there’s nothing more pleasing from an agent’s perspective than hearing that extra special something on a showreel, and knowing that you’ve discovered a new voice – who then goes on to become a success. But there’s no point in being anything other than brutally honest about a really tough industry.

You might get a gig via UKVoices. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Health Media

Journalists are bad for your health, again

As I’ve mentioned before, some of the health articles in magazines are wrong at best and dangerous at worst. The current issue of womens’ title R contains a particularly blatant example: under the banner headline “Is Salad Making You Fat?” it spends three pages singing the praises of the Novo Programme.

The Novo Programme is new and very scientific. You send off a sample of your blood for analysis – along with £350 – and the report comes back detailing the foods you should avoid. It is, of course, bullshit. Apparently we’re all intolerant of various foods, and particles of those foods whizz around the bloodstream playing merry hell with your immune system. This makes you fat.


The Novo Programme isn’t new at all; it’s a revised and rebranded version of the Nutron Diet, which pops up every few years under a new name. Which? Magazine investigated it back in 1994, and concluded that it’s a con: they sent in two samples and got two completely different sets of results, which was strange as both samples were from the same person and were drawn at the same time. More worryingly, the samples were from someone who actually had a serious allergy; the oh-so-scientific tests didn’t spot it in either sample.

What’s particularly galling about the article is that all the stuff about Novo/Nutron above took less than a minute to find in Google, and yet over three pages there wasn’t a single sentence rebutting the Novo Programme’s claims. There’s plenty of case studies, though, and they all go something like this:

I’ve tried all kinds of diets before and they didn’t work, but the Novo Programme did! The tests came back and I discovered that I can’t eat X, Y or Z! So I cut them out of my diet and blam! I lost weight!

Typically X will be something innocuous such as lettuce, but Y & Z will be processed/junk foods and chocolate. Oh, and the Novo Programme also forbids alcohol for the first two months. Do people lose weight? Of course they do, but it’s because they’re not eating junk food or drinking booze.

As I wrote back in December:

we want a quick fix, a miracle drug, a magic bullet. That such things rarely, if ever, exist doesn’t stop newspapers from levelling entire forests to bring us articles expounding the virtues of assorted quackeries.

This really bugs me. If I write something that isn’t up to scratch, the worst that can happen is you’ll find that a program can’t export in a particular file format or needs a bit more RAM than I’ve suggested. If health writers write bad articles, their advice can damage your health. And R isn’t the only offender: in the sunday papers last weekend, there was yet another article banging on about St John’s Wort that listed all its benefits but didn’t mention that it’s bad, bad news for pregnant women or anyone taking blood-thinning drugs such as Warfarin.

Let me put it another way: you’re getting more reliable health information from a balding, binge drinking, heavy smoking, lazy-arsed Scots techno-blogger than you’re getting from supposed health experts. Does that scare you? It scares the hell out of me.

Books Media

So you want to be a novelist?

Fancy becoming an author? Then don’t give up the day job. BoingBoing links to this survey of novelists’ advances, and it’s clear that writing books is hardly a licence to print money:

The range was from $0-$40,000 for an advance on a first novel.

The average was $6363.

The median advance is $5000. The median figure is a better indicator of what most people consider ‘average.’


So you want to be a screenwriter?

Professional screenwriter John August’s weblog covers pretty much everything a would-be screenwriter needs to know.

[Via MetaFilter]