Archive for April, 2012
by Gwyn Headley
We’re busy with our final preparations for fotoFringe London 2012, the picture buyers’ fair which is being held tomorrow in King’s Place, a newish office block and conference centre where The Guardian have their offices, near King’s Cross.
And it’s an article in The Guardian that I want to write about. A friend in Euskadi alerted me to this one (thank you Peta) because it’s one of my favourite topics — the freedom of photographers to use their cameras.
Stonehenge, Trafalgar Square, National Trust properties, a whole bunch of places in the USA — the list of places where photography is banned or restricted lengthens daily. Now, unsurprisingly, we can add the Olympic park in East London to the list.
I’ll never get to see this place because all my ticket applications have proved unsuccessful. However I am permitted to contribute substantially towards it through a hike in my London rates over the next ten years. So I’d like to see some pictures of it.
The Olympic venues are technically private property (purchased using our money, but when did that ever restrain our dear leaders?) so control can be asserted over what can and can’t be photographed within the precincts. But not on the public spaces surrounding the venue, of course.
The Guardian thought this could be interesting, so they sent a couple of photographers and a video to test the temperature of the waters. They struck lucky straight away when they ran into an incompetently and incompletely briefed security guard whose debating skills and command of English were no match for the fiercely well prepared Guardian hacks. He simply attempted to stop them filming in a public place. They refused. Reinforcements arrived.
And here — well, you know I’m on the side of the photographers, but this was outright provocation and harassment. The Guardian hacks were milling around, pushing for a reaction. But they came up against an intelligent, articulate and reasonable security supervisor who conceded they had a right to photograph on public land but as this was a sensitive area — the Olympic Park’s security centre — it would be most awfully kind of them if they could possibly desist.
The Guardianistas hectored and interrupted. They tried to photograph the armband name badge of an old fart security guard who looked worryingly like me, and he tore it off to prevent them. Bad move. The hacks loved it.
I want photographers to be able to photograph what they want when they want where they want, within reason and without causing offence, upset or danger. Yes, there are security concerns. Yes, there are privacy issues. I’m less impressed by the “we own it, therefore we should profit from it” brigade. I personally find papparazzis distasteful, and I believe they were the major contributing factor in the death of Princess Diana.
Our cause isn’t helped by photographers manufacturing an incident where none existed. But every movement needs an obnoxious vanguard.
Doesn’t it? What do you think?
by Gwyn Headley
… or Feminization if you’re American.
At the Digital Minds Conference last Sunday, part of the London Book Fair (from which I’ve only just surfaced, so please excuse the tardiness of this thought) there were three keynote speakers. I’d always thought there could only be one keynote speaker, who would be The Keynote Speaker, but the conference world appears to have left me behind. Or common sense has left them behind.
One of the excellent keynote speakers (there were two) was Jim Griffin of OneHouse LLC. I didn’t know him or what he does, but I listened obediently. And what he had to say was good. I sat up when he announced “Every time someone has to click on your website, you lose half your audience.”
Of course you do! I do it myself! Like most youth, I suffer from diminishing attention span syndrome, and if I find a website is making too many demands on me, I will wander off elsewhere. Memo to self: must ensure that the new iteration of fotoLibra has as few jumps as possible. There’s a great art in this, and for someone as prolix, verbose and effulgent as I am, it is extremely hard to pare what I want to say back to the core. E.g. that 32 word sentence could have been written in seven.
Griffin went on to advocate the feminisation of marketing. In a few swift sentences he describes the shift from the Alpha Male marketing of the late C20 to today’s softer, more insidious techniques. And he’s absolutely right. Ten years ago companies would unblushingly describe their salesmen as ‘thrusting’, ‘aggressive’, ‘potent’ and displaying a ‘robust’ attitude. They might have well as stated their policy as “Wham! Bang! Thank you Ma’am!” Make the sale, move on. Scored! Or as I saw in one memorable, boastful but educated piece of grafitti: VIDI • VICI • VENI ( you can look it up for yourselves if you need to).
When I interviewed Jeff Bezos for The Times back in 1996 he told me that he’d chosen the name Amazon for his company because he wanted it to be the biggest damn retailer in the world and the Amazon was the biggest damn river. It seemed like braggadocio at the time, but they’re on their way. And they’ve done it through the feminisation of their marketing, not through the big swinging dick statements of their founder.
Jim Griffin pointed out that Amazon knows what you like to read. It knows your birthday. It knows the sort of music you listen to, the films you watch. It probably remembers the colour of your eyes and your wedding anniversary. It’s a woman, for God’s sake. And the customers keep coming back. Amazon isn’t interested in a one night stand, it wants a long term, loving relationship. As long as you keep giving it money.
What if you go off and start buying from someone else? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that in the future there’ll be some built-in module to penalise disloyalty.
They could call it Alimony.
by Gwyn Headley
Having been ripped off by a Nigerian scammer (details here) we asked our local MP Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru) if there was anything he could do to help.
He was as outraged as we were that the issuing bank knew of the fraud two months before coming to HSBC and demanding that $800 be removed from the fotoLibra account, by which time of course we had disbursed the money. He said he would write to the Chairman of HSBC.
Which he did. He received a reply from David Lewis, Head of HSBC Customer Relations, absolving the bank of any responsibility and arguing that it was fotoLibra’s fault for accepting ‘cardholder not present’ transactions. This amazing statement ignores the fact that 10.7% of all retail sales* are now made via the internet, every one of which is a ‘cardholder not present’ transaction.
Mr. Lewis concluded
There are some steps the merchant/retailer can take to minimise the possibility of fraud, for example asking for the numbers in the post code of the card holder and only delivering to that address (as fraudsters often ask for the goods to be sent to another address other than that of the registered cardholder).
That might have been relevant if fotoLibra delivered boxed goods to physical locations. But we don’t. We permit the download of digital images to an email address. There’s no connection to any part of the credit card.
Maybe a credit card could be linked to a fixed email address which would form part of the verification process? No, that’s probably far too simple. Isn’t it?
We are most grateful to Mr Llwyd for his concern and his response. That’s exactly what MPs are for. Full marks.
*Office for National Statistics, February 2012
by Gwyn Headley
This Sunday, as part of the London Book Fair, the Digital Minds Conference will be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London.
The organisers have told us to get there in good time because public transport in London sucks on a Sunday. In fact the real reason is because security at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre is so paranoid it will take you as long to get into the building as it takes an innocent Brit to get into the United States via JFK. Last time I visited I thought I saw the words “anal probe” being mouthed by the security guards. I vowed never to go again.
But all the leading lights of the ebook world will be there (if they’re allowed in), so attendance is virtually compulsory. Many sessions and seminars are taking place. Bill McCoy, the Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (they create and maintain the EPUB ebook format, the standard for ebooks) is chairing one session called Join the Conversation – Digital Platforms and Standards. This consists of round table conversations on a wide range of topics steered by industry ‘experts’, with three subject sessions and approximately 18 different tables covering a variety of angles.
The reason I put ‘experts’ in quotes is that I am one of them — my table theme is Photographic and Illustrated Ebooks. This will be an informal round table discussion with 12 people on the design, production, marketing and future of illustrated ebooks. You are welcome to join in. I’ve been asked to host this as a result of the publication of our first forty ebook titles by VisConPro’s digital publishing arm, Heritage Ebooks.
There are over 1,900 photographs in Heritage Ebooks’ Follies of England series, the majority provided by talented fotoLibra photographers. It is the biggest digital heritage ebook project ever published. And we created it to demonstrate a new method of visual content provision to digital publishers, fotoLibra’s advanceImages system.
Now we have a chance to sit down with other digital publishers and talk through what we did and how it works. It’s a great opportunity for us. And I hope it will prove useful for participants.
If you can’t run to the conference fee of £399, I’ll be happy to meet with digital publishers for free at the London Book Fair next week. We’re on Stand T905, through the kind courtesy of our hosts Publishers’ Marketplace.
After every cock-up, politicians appear on our TVs to hang their heads and admit that “Lessons Have Been Learned.”
Well, now it’s my turn. As many of you will be aware, the fotolibra website suffered a calamitous collapse last week, and as it fell it brought the Heritage Ebooks site down with it, as well as all our back office tools — admin, banking, invoicing, Datacash, payments, mailing systems and more.
The good news is that the only thing we actually lost was time. No images were harmed in the making of this booboo, no data was lost and no accounts were compromised.
I’m delighted to tell you that fotoLibra is back up and running after our calamitous crash. Everything is back to normal.
You can upload images again!
If you use fotoLibra DND, please quit the application and restart it before attempting to upload.
Two questions: how do we stop this happening again, and what are we going to do about it?
Well, Lessons Have Been Learned. We are studying a cloud computing model to run in tandem with our physical array of servers and RAID 5 disks which live in a server farm in Manchester. If one system goes down, the other has to be there for it. That’s redundancy.
Redundancy (which has a different meaning in the computing world to what it used to have in my chosen career path) must be at the forefront of our plans. When a system fails, another system must step seamlessly into its place.
What are we going to do about it? Firstly of course we must apologise to all our users, buyers, sellers and browsers. We let you down, and we are very sorry. I am personally desolated — the fotoLibra website has been live since March 2004 and in that time it’s never been down for longer than ten minutes, and then only for service upgrades. I was rather proud of that; but then pride comes before a fall.
Enough breast-beating. Let’s look to the future. Assuming we have an even more robust system, we still have to have a contingency plan. As for the images, which were unharmed in this little unpleasantness, as well as our existing RAID 5 storage and possible future cloud back-up I am planning to physically secrete caches of hard drives full of images in various undisclosed locations in Snowdonia. Just in case.
One of the worrying things about last week’s crash is that it took our mailing system down with it, so we were unable to tell everyone.
There needs to be a line of communication with fotoLibra users set up outside our inhouse systems. And it appears some kind Americans have already thought of this, and have created things called LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. In exchange they want our souls for all eternity, but it’s just the price we have to pay.
fotoLibra has opened a Group on LinkedIn, which will be my preferred way of reaching you. It’s a professional networking group, and I promise I will link with you if you ask me.
There is also a fotoLibra Facebook site, which will be run by our redoubtable web editor Jacqui Norman. She will link with you, but I won’t, as I have reserved my Facebook visits for keeping an eye on my extended family.
Finally, there is Twitter. Now I am not a chatty man, so this will be difficult for me, but I will try and post something every day. The content will most likely be taken from my commonplace book, so it will largely consist of wise thoughts, pithy sayings and the world according to my friend Dede. I hope that sometimes you will find it fun and amusing. From time to time there will be something of interest to fotoLibra users. Please follow me @fotoLibrarian.
This way, if there ever is another problem, we’ll be able to let everyone know — and you will know where to check if you think you are having problems with the fotoLibra site.
Please sign up to join these groups — if you can also put up with my disconnected ramblings, of course.
And please stick with us. We’ll be even better as a result of this crisis.
Whoa! All the bits of the fotoLibra site seem to be springing back to life, particularly the fotoLibra Payment Requests. Poor Yvonne has been flooded over the past hour with fotoLibra members cheekily asking for money for their picture sales.
This is outrageous. How dare they demand the money that’s owed to them? Why can’t they be happy with the postcard from sunny Rio de Janeiro, as traditionally sent by fleeing accountants?
But no, they want to be paid, and as we have sold their pictures, I suppose we’d better shell out.
I’m the one who suffers, you know. She doesn’t like writing cheques, so she takes it out on me.
She’s much happier making bank transfers, so if you haven’t already fed in your bank details, do it now — sign in, go to Control Centre> Account> Payment Preference (5th button down in the LH column) and fill in the three boxes. Simple. And the money will go straight into your account.
If you’ve sold a picture, that is.
As you can probably guess, this is me marking time until we get the go-ahead from Damien that it’s safe for fotoLibra members to start uploading images again. So I thought I’d do a little housekeeping, such as asking members to set up more bank transfers. It makes life immeasurably easier for us — well, for Yvonne, and by extension for me. I don’t normally have time for it.
I’m expecting the go-ahead any minute, but I’ve been expecting that since last Friday. I suspect it will be sometime tomorrow.
I promise I will let you know!
SEO, as you will know, stands for Search Engine Optimisation. We do it in-house, and we’re reasonably good at it. Of course, we could be a lot better.
But every hour we get emails from hopefuls who have stumbled across our URL and want to help us improve our rankings. Here’s one which was cooked up earlier:
Please forgive the direct approach. My name is Alan and I work as a Consultant in your market sector. I have been looking at your website today and would like a few minutes of your time to have an informal chat with you.
I really like the site, but you may be curious as to why the site isn’t ranking, and with that in mind I wondered if you would like a free SEO audit of the site looking at keyword density and a detailed analysis of the back link profile.
That should give you an excellent insight, and hopefully allow us to develop a plan for getting the site into some top positions.
The audit is FREE and with no obligation. So do please get in touch.
At least it was polite. And it came from Britain. Were I to reply to him, this is what I’d like to say:
Thanks for your email.
You are not a known consultant in our market sector.
You write: “I really like the site, but you may be curious as to why the site isn’t ranking,”
Well, it is ranking. And it’s ranking exponentially better than yours. Your site’s Alexa ranking is 22,713,269.
Ours is 52,212.
It works in reverse — the lower the number, the higher the ranking. So your site is virtually invisible to the outside world.
And you want to sell us your advice?
But I can’t be bothered. I’m too busy waiting for the fotoLibra RAID 5 array to rebuild and for our very high-ranking site to be fully functional again.