Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Good for me

When I explained to someone that I had spent my two weeks off pottering around our flat, and staying for a few days each in the Cotswolds and Devon, their response was the limp "Good for you". Faint and damning maybe but also correct - it was good for me.

During the first couple of days, still buzzing with surges of stress-related adrenalin, I ended up transferring all work energy and anxiety into bizarre creative personal projects including the pointless ambition of the development of a new literary form - the cross-genre review mashup.

This was inspired by a conversation I had with some colleagues where, possibly through the medium of wine, we seamlessly moved between chatting about the amazing online game/experience/community/world Second Life and a book I'd started to read, Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island. Before I embarked on my ambitious plan, which I may attempt at a later date if the idea isn't manic nonsense, real life got a hold of me and my virtual creativity occupied less and less of my headspace.

I confess, even when real life did kick in, my boyfriend and I still couldn't shake work ways. On Day 3, we sat gazing at the view from Parliament Hill, the remains of a picnic in front of us, then proceeded to fill out coloured pieces of paper with "what we want to achieve during the rest of the holiday" - one idea per piece of paper, all ideas are valid - and then prioritised our list by scoring for urgency, impact and ease on a criteria grid. And before anyone anonymously comments "you are sad" - yes I know, that's the point of confessing this.

So what did we achieve? In descending order: 6 nights away from home in a good hotel and with family; 5 ok books read (between us); 4 mostly terrible films watched; 3 great walks (5 miles +); 2 good plays seen; and 1 great meal out.

We might not have purchased a sofa, gone to the chiropodist or plastered the ceiling in the spare room, but I think we prioritised ruthlessly and effectively.

Friday, September 08, 2006

More Worry, Less Posts

Ah, the irony of the emphatic end to my last post "Worry less, post more". Within 24 hours how I had learnt to rue those words.

It started with a colleague telling me how a random person had told him they'd enjoyed my blog. I was ecstatic to learn that someone who wasn't a relative, friend, or colleague past or present, was enjoying anything I'd written. All this talk of only posting for friends and colleagues went out the window: I had a fan!

When I found out the next day that this person had enjoyed my Channel 4 insider's insight so much he had included a link in a newsletter, I became hysterical, worried that I might have broken a cardinal rule of employment in an attempt to make my mates laugh.

The thing I'd missed in my last post on the relevance of daft blogs was that the most interesting and relevant thing about my daft blog for a certain group of people - and that might keep them reading - is the fact that I work for Channel 4.

I told my boss about it straight away, and he was supportive and relaxed as were the few colleagues with whom I confided my concerns. But as I suspected there were some things I should have been more careful and thoughtful about mentioning it seemed right to review past posts.

This led to a night of the long knives for Busy and Lively, with the culling of one post and some judicious editing of others. The only irritation for me being that taking out some of the detail made it well, a bit less funny (if a bit more accurate).

Reflecting on my extreme reaction, with a boss relaxed and colleagues supportive, why was I so worried? Let me give you the back story: just under a year ago, I left the company that brought you the monkey dance and went to the company that brings you Dispatches (I might watch Big Brother more, but that's not the point).

(Ok, I admit it, when I watch that video of Ballmer - I was there at the conference when it was filmed - I actually get happy shivers, it was like being at a rave but with fewer whistles and more pocket protectors. The only problem was, when Ballmer boomed at the end "I - LOVE - THIS - COMPANY", that's when I shrugged my shoulders, looked at the floor and thought "meh".)

It's hard to explain how much happier I am since changing jobs without sounding weird, but, rest assured, work feels like something very different now and not something I want to put at risk for a mention in (the) Metro.

Most usefully, this mini saga meant I was spurred on to be more proactive about working to set up a corporate blogging policy in order to avoid future panics for me and others by laying down some ground rules - like reinforcing little principles like accuracy and respect that are remarkably easy to stretch for the sake of a gag.

Once that's sorted, all I need then is to persuade Andy Duncan to come on stage at our big internal meetings to Eye of the Tiger or similar and life would be perfect. If I do manage to keep hold of my job and am called upon, I've already got my entrance music sorted (not sure about the outfit, mind).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Relevance of Daft Blogs

I learnt recently about a technique of online community management called "speed bumping" whereby users are prevented from posting comments more than once every few minutes. The result is that whilst reducing the sheer number of posts, it also encourages more intelligent, thought-through contributions, and less entries that consist solely of either TLAs (three-letter acronyms) or bizarre combinations of punctuation marks ;-) (LOL).

I've been hoping that this might be the effect on my blog due to the indefinite inaccessibility to a laptop in the wee small hours (incidentally, Blogger doesn't work with my Nokia N70 despite my previous positive posts). Theory was less quantity, more quality. In actual fact, I can't help but feel that it's had more of a negative effect - I'm finding this first post in over a week much tougher to compose.

Perhaps it's because quality of blogging has been on my mind since Rachel Cooke's article in The Observer last Sunday "Who's to judge? Better an eminent critic than a daft blogger" about bloggers being oh-so-wrong about Snakes on a Plane and other shit films that daft bloggers have made a fuss about.

Personally I'm a bit tired of the argument about whether journalists and critics are better writers and judges that bloggers - of course they are. Most journalists who earn any kind of living have to fight through an enormous amount of competition, may have a training/education in their chosen sphere, are likely to have amazing amounts of experience and unquestionably better prose styles than your average blogger. On top of this, the professional hack has a commissioning editor to confirm what they're writing about is worthwhile, subbing teams to pick up their split infinitives and editors and designers to aid presentation and layout.

But this article and some mainstream press miss the point about why it's ok for people to get excited about crap films like [m*therf*ckin'] Snakes on a [m*therf*ckin'] Plane.

In a media landscape where there is an embarassment of content riches to be had, what you need is relevance - not just relevance to the task in hand (where Google cleaned up) or to your particular industry (digg, Media Guardian) but also relevance to your life and tastes. It's why I know that a bunch of you are still reading my views on blogging (you're the work people) and why hopefully the rest of you are still reading (you're the people that like me - oh yes, you do, don't even try to deny it). Most bloggers only ever write for a bunch of friends and/or close colleagues as I do (great US report from a few months back on this here).

A lot of the content "long tail" is shit, if your definition of "shit" is never forming part of any canon or even appealing to the majority. But then, is there nothing that you love in your life that does not stand up to critical scrutiny?

I, for example, will always treasure the memory of Rupert Everett's performance of his first (and only?) single "Generation of Loneliness" on the Wogan chat show. (Had I just managed to find it on Youtube I may have ripped my top off in the office.) Others, possibly including Rupert himself, may cringe at the thought of it. But he was my ultimate pin-up during my teenage years and anything that he was involved with I consumed with a ridiculous amount of subjectivity (although seriously, he was robbed of a career as an international pop sensation).

Similarly I will endure sentences with the poorest construction in the world ever and even; the misuse of punctuation in some blog entries! As have you. Because the writers themselves are interesting and relevant to my work, my life or my beliefs. Bloggers may appear to be a barmy army, but mostly they're just people keen to share their particular interests and passions - Samuel L Jackson starring in ludicrous movies being one of them that quite a few shared.

Writers should stop worrying about lunatic bloggers taking over the media asylum, and think of them as more akin to influential pressure groups - sometimes crazy, sometimes a little over-excited about the power they may or may not wield, but always relevant and valid to a certain group of people and on the whole an excellent conduit for ideas and opinions to surface.

Note to self: worry less, post more.