Sunday, May 25, 2008

being Blunt

Last night I went to the James Blunt concert in Johannesburg. Yes, that soulful crooner whose not short of admirers and often makes headlines for his penchant for two timing and then dumping his model girlfriends. Despite being a slightly built man, he has the stamina of an Olympic athlete and the voice of an angel and possesses phenomenal stage presence. I am not ashamed to admit, that I enjoyed being part of a 10 000 strong audience of die hard Blunt fanatics. It seemed to me that suburban South Africa, from the very young to the very old, male, female and across the race spectrum had ventured out en mass to get a brief respite from what has been a shocking week in Gauteng filled with the relentlessness of xenophobic violence. My own frayed nerves were smoothed over by Mr Blunt and I was pleased he hadn't allowed international press coverage of the current Xenophobic crisis to stop him from coming to South Africa and particularly to Johannesburg. However, when I got up this morning, the fond memory of my evening dissipated abruptly as I opened the newspaper and read through the headlines. I have been trying for some time now to avoid being drawn into the feelings of negativity and powerlessness others in my social group feel about the state of South Africa. I bear witness to friends and colleagues all discussing plans to leave Johannesburg, either to live in Cape Town (it is perceived to be much safer) or the country. Unfortunately these outweigh the number of homecomers I meet. The crime crisis, the electricity crisis, the political crisis, the Zimbabwe crisis, the economic crisis and now the latest xenophobic crisis is one blow too many. I cannot help today to feel a chink in my own armour. I am so sad that my country which has so much potential, with so many good people living in it seems to be in a free fall into a dark deep abyss. As much as I want to be positive, part of being positive solution, also means being in denial. As a white affluent woman, my life here, is something of a sham. It's a sham by the very nature of its duality. The one life is filled with great work prospects (being skilled and experienced helps), nice homes, good schooling, holidays and other luxuries and then there is the other life. A life embedded in a harsh African existence, where many people are just without basic access to employment, food, water and roof over their heads. Roaming among us all are many desperate people without an inch of humanity in them who have been damaged over the years growing up deprived of basic love, food, education and shelter. Our current government refuses to acknowledge we are a society whose psyche is in need of serious help. Mondli Makhanya, the editor of the Sunday Times has really summed it up for me today in his column. We are human and we need help. So many innocent people are being murdered daily for a variety of mindless reasons from petty crime, to xenophobia. I face a personal challenge along with many others. How do we continue to live this dual life, which in itself fuels part of the problem, but also how we stay in it manage our fears and contribute positively to helping sort it out?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

face off Facebook

Today I revisited my Facebook dilemma. Should I? Should we...? Yes I am back at that again. It happens regularly that I have to challenge my thinking about FaceBook. You see I am one of the few resistors of Facebook and have been from the start. Not that I don't acknowledge its enormous influence as a social media, but I have quietly declined many invitations to join and neither am I convinced its a place marketers should be exposing their brands to unless it has very specific social and market relevance. I prefer to eavesdrop on my son's FaceBook activities to make sure I am "in touch with the medium" and watch from the sidelines as marketers dive into this arena. I'm probably a lone voice here, because there's a rush currently by South African marketers to set up Facebook profiles for their products and services. I'm finding it hard to understand why people would willingly spend precious time interacting with sites that are there to promote goods and services (even if it isn't obvious at first) and not fulfill the function of a social network in its purist intent. I really believe in the savvy Internet user who deplores any commercial intervention in these specific social online activities, unless of course it really has a very specific relevance to the interaction ( can be sure I'm searching for case studies here). FaceBook is a fascinating global phenomenon with around 60 million members and is one of the fastest-growing and best-known sites on the Internet today. Of course the real big news this week is Facebook's decision to block Google. and here I turn to Steve O'Hear on ZNet an expert on Social Media, who summarises it all very intelligently; "When Google announced its ‘Friend Connect’ product to deliver social networking features to the ‘long tail’ of the Web, the option “to see, invite, and interact with… existing friends” from competing social networks was bound to raise a few eyebrows. Not least from Facebook, whose inclusion was made possible via the site’s public API not through a formal partnership.The response: Facebook blocks Google access claiming privacy concerns, while the search giant says it’s done nothing wrong as users have to explicitly opt-in by being re-directed to Facebook’s own log-in screen, and can unlink their Google Friend Connect and Facebook accounts at any time." He adds, "the data portability land grab of course many suspect that this has very little do to with privacy, and instead what we’re seeing is an attempted data portability land grab by Facebook, MySpace and Google, in which users will be given the ability to share their social graphs elsewhere on the Web from where the data originates, so long as the primary source can remain the sole controller of that data — a kind of social control panel for the Web OS. In this scenario, data can never really leave the originating site - not in the strictest sense as that would imply it doesn't have to remain on the original host’s servers - but, a limited subset of that data can be synced with other sites."
Land grab, corporate battle, whatever you want to call it, its all part of the the quest of the monoliths for digital domination. So while the virtual powerhouses battle it out, I mere mortal digital immigrant will sit on the sidelines and figure out whether to join those 60 million odd users and marketers or face off?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

a hard drive

I try not to blog too much on the weekend. This is the time to lay down tools, to be outdoors riding horses, paddling or cycling taking in the beautiful South African weather and countryside. I spend all my time outside the city on weekends with my family, so I can regain my sanity before we set back to work on a Monday morning in the urban jungle called Johannesburg. My mother-in-law is a dairy farmer and is heading for 80 years of age. She's an extraordinary personality, running an organic dairy farm single-handed, waking up at the crack of dawn each day, while other grannies an grandpa's are sitting in old age homes waiting for nature to put them out of their misery. My mother-in-law makes most able bodied younger farmers look lazy. Anyway, today, she showed me her new mobile phone, but she doesn't know how to work it. So I sat and tried to guide her through all its features. I told her she could take pictures of her cows, sms or email them to friends or potential buyers or even save them to her hard drive (she has a dilapidated computer) so she could archive their details when needed. Frustrated by my talk she yapped back at me. "Listen darling, just give me the basics. All I want to know is how to put it on and off, make a call, read a message and then delete it. I don't care for technology and all these fancy phrases. I mean, do you know what a hard drive is to me? Exactly that! A hard drive after a long day driving back to the farm after my milk round!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is Google the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

Yesterday I sat in a presentation by a “consultant”, who was selling us his services by trashing Google. Well perhaps trashing is a strong word, let’s say, he was trying to persuade us that we were the little lambs that would be eaten by the “wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing” aka Google. This follows the launch of Google in South Africa and yes they clearly do want as much advertising Rands as they can possibly lay their hands on? After all why else did they come here? Our new “friend” threw us the question “do we honestly think they do the best for us, or the best for their own wallets and profiteer unfairly out of us naïve South Africans who are not used to dealing with the wily likes of Google?” Of course, we all knew what the answer was to that question and we could avoid the unfortunate experience by procuring his services to ensure that Google doesn’t rip us off. I was somewhat offended by his patronising approach. He is one of those know-it-all IT guy – they always think they can baffle the less technical, especially if they are young and female (one of my work colleagues in the meeting - who is extremely bright and is set to lead a major new innovative technology driven initiative in our company) or blonde (that’s me). This approach irritates me. Where I work, there are scores of clever web and mobile developers. IT specialists, engineers and even actuaries, because we lead in technological innovation in our sector, so actually I reckon there are enough of us to work out when we were getting ripped and when we aren’t. However, I must be honest here, I quite enjoyed coming across an adversary of Google. You see, to date I have only come across Googly eyed people who think they are just great and good spirited, so in a way, despite the arrogance, I enjoyed listening to someone who could put a different face to Google. The irony of all of this of course is, that Google evangelizes about all the small businesses it spawns and entrepreneurs it makes rich - our consultant being a case in point! After the meeting, I couldn’t help myself but go to Google and search on the topic of “Is Google the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?” Well there are a lot of blogs and webpages dedicated to this subject, lists of the lawsuits they are facing etc etc. It all makes to fascinating reading. Google is a monopoly, after-all they control about 70% of the world's search and as one commentator remarked, even if you ditch Google you always go back, because they have got it right! Before I knew it, I ended up on a web trail of many opinions and new insights. From this little foray I have found a new site to add to my favourites at so thanks to our consultant friend, I did indeed learn something new that hopefully will make me a little more cleverer than I really am.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

learning from 10 Downing street...

I'm a great fan of Sky Television these days for two reasons. Firstly, watching Sky TV puts the world into perspective and also makes me think that despite our troubles in South Africa, it’s still a great country to live. We think that only SA has problems, but the world is full of bad news, not least the UK . I was interested to watch the Prime Minister of the UK Gordon Brown’s press conference on Sky this evening where he tabled a whole lot of proposed reforms to deal with the UK’s ailing economy and social framework. What really caught my attention was on the podium from which he addressed the press briefing there was a large white signboard which advertised It certainly wasn't subtle! The UK has a very high penetration of Internet users, in fact it is estimated that in this coming year, advertising investment online will outperform television. So clearly Gordon Brown and his government recognise the need to direct people to the official government website at any opportunity. They got me interested and I went to take a look. It has all the stuff you would expect from government, with a strong emphasis on interaction with consumer polls and opportunities to vent back or even email the PM. What I thought was really cool was a whole section aimed at kids. Now I don’t know how many parents and or their children are visiting the site, but what impressed me was the initiative taken to drive home key social issues to UK’s youth. The site highlights the plight of Africa and the impact of HIV, it talks to Climate Change issues. It asks; “What does the Prime Minister mean when he talks about "respect", and what are the Government doing to make our communities better places to live?” There's even a section on healthy eating featuring well known UK chef Jamie Oliver. Not forgetting how popular stories on celebrities are to the youth, they have included celebrity section on which celebrities have visited 10 Downing street recently.
The second reason I enjoy Sky is that every evening between 20h30 and 21h00 SA time they talk about the hot Internet news stories of the day, most popular video downloads and most clicked stories. This evening, the stabbing to death on Oxford Street in London of a man convicted of gang raping a young girl was most popular, followed by the earthquake in China with riveting video material supplied by a citizen reporter and third, Duchess Ferguson defending the weight of her daughter Beatrix. Sky is an Award winning broadcaster and is living proof of a media harnessing the growing influence of the Internet through its own programming. They are not alone of course, CNN are going to great lengths to encourage citizen journalism and actively interact their audiences. Locally I have noticed that Radio 702 is actively encouraging citizen journalism and is placing their editorial contributions increasingly in the hands of Joe Public out there. They consistently encourage listeners to visit their website and interact with them via mobile or other devices and report the news. They are also doing a brilliant job with their community efforts with the 702 crime line. As a talk station this transition into the digital space is quite seamless and painless it seems. Of course The Times, South Africa’s first interactive newspaper which was launched just under a year ago has lead the way with this and is growing from strength to strength. Now what I would really like to see them (and/or others do) do, is take a leaf out of Downing street's book when it comes to children. After all, they are the digital natives of today and the world's hope for the future.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Cure for a Crackberry addict?

I’m a Crackberry addict, otherwise known as a Blackberry user. Probably something I shouldn’t be admitting too, but hey, isn't the challenge of getting over an addiction to something is admitting you have an addiction in the first place? I also have to admit that I’m currently a very distraught Blackberry user. Not due to any fault of the phone, but because I have not been getting my FULL daily dose. When I changed jobs recently I had to make a great sacrifice – the corporate I now work for, won’t support my Blackberry (can you imagine that? Unthinkable!). I refuse to give up my Blackberry, so now carry two phones, switching between the mandatory Nokia (which I HATE) and my Blackberry (which I LOVE). This is really causing me huge frustration, and has really put a dampener on my otherwise great job! As an addict, even one who recognises I have a problem, I still cannot make the final cut. I’m holding out that my powers of persuasion will get me my way with those bureaucratic IT people despite the company policy! I have an added incentive, because today I read on that Blackberry has just announced the launch of the BlackBerry Bold. They rave about its impressive features, it’s ability to load several graphic-heavy sites quickly with its fast 3G data access, unrestricted Wi-Fi access, a gorgeous bright and colourful screen which offers great viewing of movies among an array of other features. The geeks at explain (quote) that the GPS paired with location-based services plus BlackBerry Maps, means you can use it while making a phone call – “ Try that while driving and see if you can avoid crashing your car.” The external speaker is loud, clear and excellent for handsfree use – they add “comparatively, it's about as powerful as the speakers on an average laptop.” Brilliant I say, because I keep losing my hands free plug ins! ”The keys have also been reconfigured slightly from previous BlackBerry iterations. They now have metal dividers resembling the shape and feel of guitar frets, making touch-typing easier. Interesting, considering most CrackBerry heads I know can already touch-type without a second thought.
Yes that me - just one of the many millions of Crackberry heads out there with an overworked thumb! There are numerous other features to mention, but I am already sold. I’m salivating despite not being technologically minded, because I know what I like and what makes my work life easier and it’s a Blackberry. With the Bold on its way, I am destined to carry on switching my sim card, until I either get another job, figured a way to cut through the IT bureaucracy or perhaps perhaps, you never know, but it has been suggested to me - I try out the new Apple iPhone (which will be in SA in June) and miraculously get cured. Now there’s a thought!

Friday, May 9, 2008

beauty is nothing without brains

Well it’s the end of a long week, so I have decided to stop tapping on my laptop and take a break from blogging for one night. Of course, I can’t escape my duties entirely, so have something small to share. Today, I sat through a really informative economic overview session held by the First Rand Group for its executives. Now as you can well imagine, given the current global and local economic pressures on financial markets, the day’s proceedings were filled with data which was rather daunting. However, the great thing about First Rand management is that they never lose their positive attitude or sense of humor despite the challenges. After a series of particularly intense sessions, the Group Investor Relations Manager, a sophisticated female executive ended off her serious presentation with this video. Even the blondes in the audience had to giggle and I'm thankful because she’s given me a new site to reference.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

the Queen got it, but not the ANC

So I thought Obama was with it because he is twittering, well I have learnt that one of the most popular new sites on You Tube is the Royal Channel. Now I'm not a dedicated follower of the Royal Family, and so haven't been looking for their stuff on the web, but when I heard that they launched their own You Tube offering in December and the channel has been growing ever since I had to go and take a look. Who would have guessed that a British Institution like the Royal family would have considered a YouTube offering? What this demonstrates is that even such a traditional institution can't ignore the power of www. It's of course very sugar coated and full to the brim with cushy royal footage and pictures, but hey its doing a great job at promoting the Royal family. The Royal Channel was launched with a Christmas message from the Queen and some 400 000 people watched the royal channel in its first two days of launch. So does Britney Spears now have some serious competition from the Queen? Well, I'm not convinced unless there is a massive conversion in the Internet skills of the elderly in the UK. It struck me, that if politicians and royalty are using You Tube, then perhaps our own ruling party the ANC had considered the benefits of having a YouTube presence? I went to take a look and this is where it got interesting, because indeed they do have a YouTube presence, but probably not in the way they would have intended. What ANC Exposed demonstrates is again the power of the www. If you don't actively become a part of it, don't harness it, then you could find yourself disintermediated by it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

getting googly eyed over Google

So Google has hit South Africa! There's great excitement in the media industry around the development of a local Google office over the past six months. Stafford Masie who has been appointed Country Manager is what we at FNB call a homecomer. He's part of the homecoming revolution (this is a big FNB initiative) of South Africans who have lived and worked abroad and are now returning home. He's also got another homecomer working with him on key projects Peter Brooke-Sumner, who has just finished a stint with Google in London. Now these guys are devilishly internet savy and really reflect what you would expect from the Google brand. They're young, dynamic and fascinating to listen to. They bring with them a digital sophistication and comfortability that comes from having operated in global markets. I've heard Stafford present just some of Google's opportunities and plans for SA on two different occasions and on both accounts I was left wondering whether there was indeed life BG - "life before Google". These guys have no shortage of interest in their business. In fact they must be doubling up on their vitamins to keep pace with the meeting requests. There a lot of googly eyed people running around! What will be really interesting to see, is which companies show real and deep advertising commitment first. In SA there is a lot of dabbling going on, but so far advertising commitment to online in general, is still tiny compared to the advertising share of market of television and print in this country. At just under R 280 million out of a total of R 34 billion spent in mainstream media over the course of 2007, it's so way off global benchmarks which will top 10% of global adspend this year. Of course, we don't know how much Google has been getting because they don't and won't ever account formally for in any official figures, but given the low "official" base of spend, there's huge potential. With their plans to launch Google maps and also extend into the lucrative mobile market it's easy to believe that they will be able to create a real value proposition in the market and their success will also contribute to an overall growth and acceptance of online and mobile offerings in this country. When a global powerhouse like Google thinks SA is worth playing in, it can only be great for the industry. It's happening! Along with Admob's December ratings which revealed that SA users served over 144 million page impressions on Admob's network, placing SA third behind only India and the States on the list of countries with the most active users - you know there's something to get googly eyed about.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

plentyoffish out there?

So thanks to an insightful conversation yesterday with Ronnie Apteker, founder of Internet Solutions who has lots of interesting information to share, not least of which is internet related, I learnt today about a site called It’s a simple astoundingly successful business model which made its founder Markus Frind, a billionaire. And the man hasn’t even left his apartment! Now I reckon that has to be one of the coolest jobs in the world, the one where you can be truly "virtual" and never have to get out of your pajama’s before lunchtime - if you don’t want to. He has the added benefit of dealing with really interesting content, not boring widgets or anything, but real live human stuff. I mean if you’re vaguely voyeuristic then what could be more amusing than looking at the desire of a wide range of people from all over the world looking to find a date, true love or even a husband and wife and not necessarily in any order or altogether either. And of course if you’re one of them then better still, because he gets 1.1 billion pageviews every month and 45 million visitors so your chances of success are pretty high. According to www, up until recently Markus Frind ran his business single handedly, with only the help of his girlfriend and other voluntary moderators. The success of plentyoffish proves again the power of the Internet not just as an advertising channel to market, but as an accelerator of small business globally. In this case a simple idea, tapped into a flush market - one in eight couples in the US who married last year, dated online. Ah well, I got to get out of my pajama’s now and get to my corporate job.

Monday, May 5, 2008

thanks to Karl Fisch we're all shifting..

Thanks to Karl Fisch, I seem far more intelligent and knowledgeable about the impact of technology on our daily lives, than I really am. And without fail, each time I share his presentation Shift Happens, like I did today, with colleagues and other important people I notice the lights go on around the room, the nodding heads and then when it's it's all over, the predictable scramble to my laptop to get copies of his salient words. For those brief moments Mr Fisch makes me feel really important, that somehow I knew his words existed and could share them. Of course I didn't find them on my own, they were shared with me so I could share them with others. So I'm a big fan, not because what he says is earth shatteringly new, but because the information is crafted together so succinctly, powerfully and simply. And while the presentation is very much from a US perspective, the same issues are confronting our country too, perhaps only differing in scale. The overall message is the same and while Mr Fisch directs a lot of his challenges at the education system in the US and to empowering students and education policy decision makers, I reckon a whole lot of local business people would shift their view after a run through.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

stuck in paradise with O Koek!

Well I'm stuck in paradise. Not intentionally. Actually I have to get back to the city to work tomorrow, but the weather's fouling up and as our mode of transport is a light aircraft, a single engine Cessna. We don't fly in dodgy weather! You see I'm married to an intrepid adventurer, a man who likes to fly everywhere all the time, when we aren't working. If it's not paragliding off some mountain, then its flying in the little plane somewhere. Generally the weather fits in with our busy schedule - another good thing about living in South Africa. Talking about South Africa, we've created our very own Internet sensation - Vernon Koerkemoer. This unusual looking fellow with a mallet for a hairdo is said to South Africa's answer to Chuck Norris. Over a two month period, he's gone from anonymity to world wide fame through www and is now featuring in advertising campaigns. You name the channel and he's been featured on it. He has thousands of registered fans and more than 250 000 hits to his website (in SA this is considered BIG). Under the headline O Koek! I'm reading in the Sunday Times (South Africa's most influential newspaper) that the joke is all on us and how this bodybuilder from Benoni (same place movie star Charlize Theron hails from) called Cassie Booyse's " life imitates art with uncanny precision." I agree with Rowan Philp's assessment of this simple man's rise to instant fame. For me it just confirms again the growing influence of the Internet on the daily lives of South Africans. Amidst political, economic and criminal turmoil (and of course load shedding) in our country, South Africans are taking shelter in the virtual world and in this case the Koek is the one whose laughing all the way to the bank. You can read the full story on or check out him in video: . Now I need to get back to the business of finding a way home.

Friday, May 2, 2008

even barack obama twitters

You may have noticed I'm a new entrant to blogging and I'm behaving like a kid with a new toy. It's not just the blogging thing that interests me. I'm fascinated by the www and mobile, as new channels to market, so I'm learning as much as possible as quickly as I can. Yesterday I got a bit more familiar with twitter. Thanks to Colin Daniels again (the cheque is in the post Colin), who is great at sharing information, I learnt that Barack Obama uses twitter. Now I'm a big fan of Barack Obama. I want him to win the US presidential race and using new media tools like twitter should help him along. It's great to know that a presidential hopeful embraces new media like this, because particularly in more developed parts of the world, traditional media is being wiped by www and mobile media applications. I have no doubt Obama is penetrating new audiences better using twitter than if he had stuck to mainstream media tools. Of course, someone is going to argue that is not him, its his advisors who are responsible for his clued up state. Reality is leadership is key. If the leader is prepared to embrace new stuff then it happens. When the leader (wannabe or not) of any organisation or country for that fact doesn't get it, then it wont happen. Fullstop.

I cut and pasted some of Obama's twitterings below in case you're interested..

Name Barack Obama
Location Chicago, IL
Web http://www.barack...
Following 27,966
Followers 27,590
Favorites 0
Updates 111
View All…
Campaigning today in South Bend, IN and will be on Letterman tonight at 11pm ET/PT on CBS.
from web
With Others
Having lunch with Michelle & talking with working families in Indianapolis, then heading to Bloomington for a rally at Indiana University. from web
In Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem & Hickory, NC today. Also, on the Rachael Ray Show today. For show times visit: from web
At a One-Stop Early Vote Rally at The University of North Carolina, Dean E. Smith Center. More info: from web
In New Albany, IN at a town hall meeting at Indiana University Southeast. from web
Traveling through PA today & asking folks to vote for change! If you are in PA & need polling location info visit from web
Going to be on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tonight. 11:00pm ET on Comedy Central. Hope you watch & reply with your thoughts after. from web
In McKeesport & Pittsburgh, PA today finishing the "On Track for Change" tour and reminding everyone in PA to vote tomorrow! from web
In Reading & Scranton, PA today. Honored to be campaigning with Senator Bob Casey and Caroline Kennedy. Visit from web
On the "On Track for Change" tour through Pennsylvania. Heading to Harrisburg for a rally tonight on the State Capitol's South Steps. from web
At Independence National Historical Park (Philly, PA) kicking off the "On Track for Change" tour. For more info: from web
In Philadelphia, PA. Debating tonight on ABC. Watch the debate at 8pm ET/PT and 7pm CT/MT. Text your thoughts to 62262 after. from web
At the Building Trades National Legislative Conference, stating that we need to strengthen the long-term competitiveness of our economy. from web
In PA at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, stating that any trade agreement must contain real, enforceable standards for workers. from web
Campaigning in Indiana today. Going from Indianapolis to Columbus and on to Terre Haute. For more info visit from web
Talked with Communications Workers of America about getting America back to work. Watch my full speech at: from web
In Indiana on the 40th anniv. of Dr. King's assassination. Asking everyone to continue his lifelong pursuit of social & economic justice. from web
Troubled by today's unemployment figures, the latest indicator of how badly America needs fundamental change from Bush-McCain policies. from web
At West Chester University of Pennsylvania, will be appearing live on MSNBC at 5PM ET today for the Chris Matthews Hardball College Tour. from web
Reminding everyone to donate by midnight tonight and you could be chosen to dine with me and a few supporters. from web