In through the outfield blog

20 posts from February 2010

27 February 2010

Lynne Brindley appeals for UK web archiving was somewhat surprised to hear Lynne Brindley’s voice in my bathroom as I was brushing my teeth on Thursday morning this week.

It turned out she was being interviewed on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 talking about the lack of legislation which would ensure we don’t lose the vast amount of information only published on the World Wide Web.

The British Library has already managed to capture 6,000 sites in our UK Web Archive, but this is mere drop in the ocean compared to the millions of websites (past and present) in the UK alone.

It is reckoned that the average life expectancy of a website is less than 75 days, and that at least ten percent of UK websites are lost or replaced with new material every six months.

The problem is that until UK copyright law is changed, every website owner has to give permission to capture their site, and fewer than 25 percent of owners even reply to our requests.

In the meantime I suggest you nominate websites so we can capture more content.

I am rather proud of the fact that even this humble blog is being preserved for future generations of Infields to read.

25 February 2010

SCRAM®, the alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet

There has been a lot of publicity about Lindsay Lohan, the actress, voluntarily wearing an ankle bracelet (or anklet). It monitors any consumption of alcohol. Its use is required by many American jurisdictions for those who committed crimes while drunk (such as bad driving or violence) if they want to avoid going to jail. Its use can also be a condition of bail.

The device is called SCRAM® and is manufactured by Alcohol Monitoring Systems, or AMS, a Colorado company. The trade mark stands for "secure continuous remote alcohol monitor". The latest patent application for a refinement of the technology is called Moisture control in a transdermal blood alcohol monitor. Here is its main drawing.

Scram alcohol monitor patent image

As the title implies, it works by monitoring the alcohol in sweat given off by the wearer. 1% of the alcohol we drink leaves the body through the skin. Every hour a soft jet of air is fired at the skin which vaporises any alcohol and measures the amount. Every night a signal is sent to the company via a modem at the wearer's home. 

It costs $12 a day, a lot less than jail, and the wearer can continue to work and be with his or her family. Attempts to beat the system do not work: an infrared sensor detects if an object is placed beneath it, while a temperature sensor sends an alert if the anklet is removed.

There have been claims of "false positives", where an alcohol reading has been reported when the wearer claims not to have drunk anything. A Florida court case in 2009 involved a receptionist in a hair salon. Jeffrey Hawthorne, the expert witness from AMS, testified that the alert could have been triggered by hairspray. This must have been quite a blow for the company. The link is to a story on the case by a law firm offering to defend people.  

24 February 2010

Tweeting snow with hash tag uksnow

As I mentioned yesterday (Facebook vs. Linkedin networking evening report), Twitter is becoming an increasingly powerful tool for business, especially small business.

However, thank to some clever mashup programming by Ben Marsh it is now possible to get an instant snow view from Tweeters across the UK.

Below is today’s #uksnow map showing some isolated pockets of snow in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

More impressive is this screen shot from 6 January this year.

#uksnow screenhot

Even more impressive, and my favourite photo so far this year is this NASA image of the UK taken on 7 January. Ironically I was on a skiing holiday in the Austrian Alps when this image was captured, and we had considerably less snow where I was staying. On returning home I had to clear two foot of snow from my path just to get to my front door.

Great Britain

Facebook vs. Linkedin networking evening report

Phil, Richard, Heather and MontyI am glad to report that the evening lived up to its billing, with an excellent crowd, some learnings from our speaker Heather Gorringe of Wiggly Wigglers (WW), and some intensive speed networking courtesy of my colleague Gaby Rose.

Heather explained that her first venture into Social Media was with a podcast, which is now broadcast every Monday on iTunes. Although I notice their blog dates back to September 2005, which puts them amongst the very earliest of commercial bloggers.

Next came a Facebook group because it meant they could send a weekly newsletter to members. But also gave those same subscribers an easy way to opt out, rather than feel they were being spammed, as often happens with email newsletters.

She feels that Facebook allows you to get your personality and your brand out into the public domain. She recommends you join other groups and invite them to join your group, as a way to expand members. Theirs currently stands at 2,218 which is impressive.

Does using Facebook bring in sales?

Heather illustrated her answer to this with the story of a bride who published her wedding pictures on the WW Facebook group. This acted as a wonderful free WOMA marketing (word of mouth marketing), and seems likely to have generated several sales.

The test is that if you are willing to answer questions from you customers, you can generate a lot of interest. WW currently have over 320 topics on their Facebook group. Their followers get to hear about everything special going on with the company, and to participate in special offers which are only seen by the Facebook group.


Heather said that she thinks Twitter should really be called Peeper, as it gives you a wonderful opportunity to listen to conversations your customers are having.

She deliberately set up an intriguing profile in order to encourage people to follow her, and suggests everyone does the same.

Why does it work?

She found her current accounting software through Twitter , after two previous failures.

In desperation Heather tweeted complaints about her BT phone service, and from four months of trying to get a resolution, and just ten days to being cut off. Within twenty minutes she had a reply and a meeting with her key contact within two days.

The power of trending topics can be seen in the example of the American farmer who used the moo hash tag. Within two hours the story reached 368,000 people, with the only cost being a little bit of time, resulted in national and international press coverage.

Heather gave the example of a complaint about WW service which have been seen as a PR disaster, but was actually an opportunity to put things right in a very public way, and ended up with some excellent comments from the orginal complainer.

Her tip was to search on topics relevant to you, and then follow appropriate people as they are likely to follow you back.

Also save searches on your company name so you can see when you are mentioned on Twitter.

She currently spends half an hour a day on social media activities, but believes it more than pays for the time invested in building a positive view of the WW brand.

Watch Heather in action

23 February 2010

The branding of Amy Williams

Amy Williams.jpgEven for those who have not been following the current Winter Olympics in Vancouver closely, it is unlikely you will not be aware that Britain won it’s first individual Gold medal for three decades.

Amy Williams the 27 year old slider from Bath in the west country, became a national hero by twice breaking the track record at the Whistler track on her way to becoming Olympic champion in the terrifying skeleton competition.

She was travelling at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour perched precariously on a tiny contraption of plastic and metal, and won the title with a huge gap (for this sport) of 0.56 seconds over the silver medal winner.

As an aside, I can’t quite get over the fact that such a dangerous and terrifying sport (a competitor from Georgia was killed on the first day of the competition) has such a silly name. All of the competitors, ranging from the skeleton to the four man bobsleigh, are called sliders. Even worse, the competition takes place in a slider centre. Whenever I hear the word, I think of ten year olds egging each other on, to see who can slide the furthest on an icy or slippery patch of pavement. In my view the sport really needs someone to come up with a new name which more effectively captures the excitement and skill. Even something as basic as ice racing would be better than sliding.

Which leads me neatly into the point of this post. I was initially impressed by how calm Amy Williams appeared after her first two runs, putting her into the lead in the competition. The next morning prior to her crucial final two runs, she said she had slept well after a nerveless night’s sleep. This was confirmed by her calmness and consistency over those two runs which gave her the gold medal. I was more surprised by her comments during her first interview on the BBC within minutes of realising she was the champion. She said winning the medal would not change her, and how she was looking forward to getting back home to her friends and family in Bath. The interviewer unsuccessfully attempted to get across her view that Amy was now a celebrity and would be the focus of media attention from now on.

A newspaper article a couple of days later was headlined ‘Amy: I’m not a celebrity’, and had plenty of quotes to reinforce this view:

‘I don’t know when I’ll get my life back, but I can’t wait to go horse riding again and do the things I stopped because I had to concentrate so hard this past year. I can’ wait to do so-called normal things again.’

‘I never thought I’d win an Olympic medal, and it’s not going to change me.’

‘I’m just happiest watching a film with my friends and that’s what’s important to me. I’ll never lose sight of my normal life.’

‘My friends have all got their own achievements which are just as good as mine, but in their own worlds. I don’t see myself as being any different.’

Whilst I am impressed by these noble sentiments I will be amazed if the intensity of media attention will not change her. In recent years sport has become the leader in the celebrity stakes, eclipsing Hollywood and business leaders. Just look at the kinds of income those at the top of their sport, from motor racing to golf can earn.

Even for the relatively unknown sport of skeleton sliding you can be sure that now Amy is a Gold medal holder she will attract millions of pounds of sponsors money.

I watched with interest as Kelly Holmes (the winner of two gold medals during the Athens Olympics of 2004, gradually went from a shy and awkward performer in front of the media glare to delivering polished celebrity standard performances in adverts and news interviews, and picking up a Damehood on the way.

I would be very surprised, and to be honest, very impressed if Amy Williams is somehow able to resist the enormous pressures from the media and big business to become ‘brand Amy’ and instead maintain a normal life.

Business & IP Centre supports economic growth

Last week I attended our annual Partner Reception and enjoyed catching up with Goretti Considine from City Business Library, Mark Sheahan our inventor in residence, and many others from the over 150 attending.

This year we also announced the publication of an evaluation report showing how we have supported economic growth in London over the last few years. The report was conducted by economics firm Adroit Economics Ltd and included how many jobs and new businesses The Business & IP Centre has helped create, as well as highlighting some of its success stories.

In summary the report shows that:

  • We have created 829 new businesses for London and sustained 632 businesses
  • We have created 786 new jobs, or 1,615 including the new business owners
  • These businesses have increase their turnover by £32m in the past two years
  • For every £1 invested by the LDA and British Library, we have gained an average turnover increase of £4.61
  • We have generated a Net Present Value of £11.3m to the public purse

The report also shows how much entrepreneurs value our services:

  • 98% would recommend the Centre to others
  • 97% will continue to use the Centre
  • 89% achieved success with the Centre’s help

The most under-rated invention ?

A competition has been launched by New Scientist to find the most under-rated invention. A book, Inventors and inventions, is on offer. Comments are requested by this Friday and already there are 160 comments [the 5 winners were announced on the 1 March].

I'd nominate the cargo or shipping container, as without it we would not have the numerous cheap electronic goods we take for granted. It's not just down to cheap labour. This secure way of shipping goods that prevents damage or theft, and that ensures easy loading and unloading, has transformed world trade.

Malcolm McLean's patent, Apparatus for shipping freight, was applied for in 1954. The drawings show the containers stacked on the deck, which is so normal today, rather than in the holds. McLean had run a road transport company before betting everything on containers and adapting a ship for the first experimental voyage. From the first he understood that standardization was vital to ensure the most efficient use of space. Later Singapore introduced bar codes, so that computers ensure that the containers are placed in the most efficient place on the ship for later unloading at ports.

There is a Wikipedia article on McLean.

19 February 2010