Lunchtime video from Euan Semple about social networks and business

Now and again we have a lunchtime video session at NativeHQ. Our choices of video tend to have a strong emphasis on technology, innovation and creativity. We love to absorb influences from all over the place, especially as what we do is not a ‘pure discipline’.

This video is a talk by Euan Semple at the Do Lectures in Aberteifi and is called Why social network mess can benefit your business. (Embedding doesn’t seem to be encouraged so you’ll have to visit the Do Lectures site instead.)

Semple only partly answers the title question, in my opinion, but well worth a watch for his anecdotes about getting humans communicating properly in a big organisation.

BBC Enables Video Embedding, Sets Good Example for You and Me

BBC News and Sport are beginning to enable you to embed their videos on to your own site.

Below is an example of an embedded video. It’s hosted by the BBC, who also take care of the streaming too. (The story happens to be about cybercrime, I’ve included it purely as an illustration of the technology – the range of embeddable videos is still small while the scheme is being rolled out.)

Technically it’s always been possible to embed BBC videos elsewhere (in a cheeky fashion – you just grab the code).

But this change of policy is a good move – by actively encouraging and helping people to embed the videos and discuss them it will increase the BBC’s presence around the web, including on blogs like this one.

In order to embed a video, you go to the original story page. Let’s take the example I embedded above. If you click share, you’ll be presented with the following code which you then copy and paste into your website/blog. (You don’t have to understand every tag in order to use it.)

<object classid=”clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000″ width=”512″ height=”400″ codebase=”http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=6,0,40,0″><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” /><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always” /><param name=”FlashVars” value=”config_settings_showUpdatedInFooter=true&amp;playlist=http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/emp/7930000/7938900/7938949.xml&amp;config=http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/emp/config/default.xml?1.3.105_2.10.7938_7967_20090310160409&amp;config_settings_language=default&amp;config_settings_showFooter=true&amp;config_plugin_fmtjLiveStats_pageType=eav6″ /><param name=”src” value=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/emp/2.10.7938_7967/player.swf” /><embed type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”512″ height=”400″ src=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/emp/2.10.7938_7967/player.swf” flashvars=”config_settings_showUpdatedInFooter=true&amp;playlist=http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/emp/7930000/7938900/7938949.xml&amp;config=http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/emp/config/default.xml?1.3.105_2.10.7938_7967_20090310160409&amp;config_settings_language=default&amp;config_settings_showFooter=true&amp;config_plugin_fmtjLiveStats_pageType=eav6″ allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”></embed></object>

Of course, other video streaming sites have allowed and encouraged this for years. Seasoned bloggers and webheads may quip that “BBC embedding 2009 = YouTube embedding 2005”. But to be fair to BBC, they have had “a huge number of tricky little issues to sort out and most of these have been complex business issues around rights, terms and conditions, etc.” (quote).

This also illustrates a good principle. Making a success of the web means not only having a good destination site but also having a good web presence.

It’s now considered somewhat precious to want to “own” visitors and insist they come to your website first. You will spread awareness of yourself and and actually drive future visits to your site by giving stuff to other sites.

In practice, you may not have your own video player like the BBC. But if you’ve uploaded video on sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv or Viddler, then make sure embedding is enabled. It will multiply the potential audience by several factors of ten AND probably bring more people to your site anyway.

I cannot think of a single good reason not to allow embedding on a video. Universal Records, the largest record label in the world, appear to have disabled embedding on their official YouTube videos. If you can explain this decision, feel free to comment below or contact me.

Even if your primary focus is not video, the more general principle is engagement with other sites. I feel another blog post emerging, mmm. I’ll explore it more next week.

(As it happens, YouTube have been in the news this week regarding a separate issue – their disagreement with PRS, who represent song publishers and composers. Robert Andrews at paidContent summarises the complexities of such deals, while Rhodri Marsden at the Independent gives an insightful view from a songwriter’s perspective.)

The Guardian Newspaper launches its own API (And Why this is Exciting)

Today’s exciting story at the crossroads of media and technology is the Guardian’s new API.

If you’re new to the idea of an API, or “application programming interface”, read The Guardian’s own intro to the concept of APIs from 2007. Here’s today’s announcement.

OK, why is this exciting?

Every newspaper is a massive storehouse of potentially interesting data. You can access that data by getting a paper copy and reading it. Or you can access it by visiting their website.

There aren’t many other ways of sifting through the stories, features, facts and statistics held by the newspaper. You are somewhat limited by the design and the methods the Guardian have deemed useful for presenting that data.

But now, The Guardian have opened up access to their content. The same copyright applies, they’ve just allowed you to query it in a multitude of ways. Now, you can write software (or hire someone to write software) which presents it in new forms, giving new insights. The “interface” part of API is not a graphical interface but a set of requests you can send which result in answers and other data coming back.

The API idea is familiar to software developers. Usually it wouldn’t be a surprise for an online service to launch an API – examples abound: Amazon, Facebook, Google Search, Google Maps, Twitter, Yahoo, Flickr and YouTube are just some of the services that offer their own APIs. If you visit one and scroll to the very bottom of their homepage, usually that’s where you’ll see a little API link which takes you to the documentation for developers.

If you take the perspective of a service owner, the set of data you are sitting on is suddenly more useful because of the versatility of access you have allowed. The world at large knows more than you about what it wants from your data – and can do more. When that data is combined with data from other APIs, in the form of a “mash-up”, that’s when the real fun begins.

The practice of newspapers offering APIs is relatively recent. The other big one already available is that of the New York Times. Here’s a real example I picked arbitrarily, Reading Radar. This developer has taken the bestselling books chart from the New York Times and is linking directly to the Amazon listing for each book. Incidentally, he probably makes a modest amount of money via Amazon Associates, an affiliate scheme to drive sales. He credits the New York times prominently as the source of the data, so they get the kudos and the brand recognition. Here’s some technical info on how he achieved it.

Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research has a list of suggestions for developers who are keen to flex their coding skills and tap into this rich resource. You can guarantee that most or all of these will appear in the coming weeks.

If you’re not a developer, you can still make use of the new services that spring up – Reading Radar and the like. That’s the point! If you’re on Facebook and have ever used applications like Scrabulous (as was), Super Wall or the hundreds of others then you’ll know this – and sometimes with annoyance in that case. But people come back to Facebook because the usefulness and fun factor outweighs the clutter.

But if you’re a content owner then you should be thinking about how this could impact on the future of your business. Jeff Jarvis argues today that APIs are the new distribution, citing BBC and National Public Radio as further examples of media owners who’ve experimented with offering APIs.

News Corporation, Trinity Mirror and other media owners should be eyeing this Guardian announcement with interest.

BBC Takes Back Control of Rogue Twitter Account (Lessons for Brands)

Yesterday I wrote about Twitter name squatting and included a recent example where a rogue person had registered the name BBC on Twitter.

Earlier today Twitter Inc handed the account to the real BBC, after a BBC staff member complained to Twitter Inc. It’s been cleared of all previous tweets and all 7,684 followers.

It’s now impossible to follow the original links and see what happened. So here are some screenshots to illustrate my point about the importance of brand control. All were taken on 28th January 2009 just after 5PM.

Message to fake BBC Twitter account

The screenshot above shows an @ message sent to the BBC Twitter account.

Reply from fake BBC Twitter account

The user @sputnik101 was surprised to see this reply from the BBC Twitter account. Like many people, including me, he was unaware that the BBC did not have control over the account. In that sense, like many others, he’d be duped into thinking he was following the real BBC. It’s generally expected that large corporations will protect their trademarks and copyrights to prevent this happening.

First available tweet from fake BBC Twitter account

I tried to see how long the BBC account had been in third party control. Above is the earliest tweet I found – from 9th October 2008.

Some replies to fake BBC Twitter account

As far as I could see the message to @sputnik101 was the only @ reply from the impostor posing as the BBC. But many other people sent @ messages to the account about many different topics. You can see just one page of search results above.

We don’t know if the rogue posing as the BBC sent any private direct messages to any of his or her thousands of followers, in the four months he or she had control over the account. It would have been possible.

BBC take control of Twitter account

Today the real BBC have control. So do head over and read what they’re posting from the new look, genuine @bbc. If you’re on Twitter you can follow them too.

This BBC story is an excellent example of the need to control your brand name on Twitter. If someone has your brand name, particularly if it’s a trademark, you should complain to Twitter Inc by sending a message to @crystal in user support.

If your name or brand name is still available, then register a Twitter account today to prevent somebody else taking it.

It’s also worth using usernamecheck.com to check the availability of your name on a variety of other popular sites.

At Native our purpose is to advise companies on good use of online and social media. This is advice we give to all our clients. As such, the BBC story is given here purely as an illustrative example. I’m not going to labour this point – there are many other examples of Twitter squatting but I won’t be attempting to catalogue them all.

I do believe that Twitter squatting could lead to examples of phishing and other nastiness if companies are lax about this. Unfortunately the onus is largely on them to monitor this. (If you’re concerned about this or you want more information, call us.)

In this example, on the surface it would appear that the rogue was attempting to provide a useful service – by pulling in the legitimate RSS feed from BBC News. But it would be easy to do this for other purposes – including phishing – to give an appearance of authenticity to an account. The legitimate feed could easily be combined with a feed from elsewhere (using an RSS aggregation service such as Yahoo Pipes).

BBC Impostor Fools 7,684 People (Control Your Twitter Name, Even if You’re a Twitter Sceptic)

[ UPDATE 29/01/09: Some of the links here no longer work because the real BBC have taken control of the rogue Twitter account. Read this post for screenshots and updated info. ]

Fake BBC Twitter account

There’s enough hype saying you need to use Twitter. Just as TV presenter Phillip Schofield and other celebrities are discovering, there are few barriers to investigation. If you’re curious then just sign up, post a couple of tweets, start following a few people and see what happens.

What I will say is, whether you care about Twitter or not, you must protect your name or your brand.

Domain name squatting has been happening for years. Twitter is starting to tip and a similar thing has been happening there. Lots of people are reserving other people’s names, whether for pranks, experimentation, promotion of other projects, revenge, financial gain or reasons known only to them.

For instance, in December it took several days before we were sure that the Twitter account for Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was being run by an impostor. The poor spelling and writing style had me suspicious – but he or she still managed to gather a couple of hundred followers and dispense some tweets of pithy wisdom. It was mostly good-natured, but the risk of damage to the Archbishop was still there. (The account has been taken over now and is dormant.)

Again, back in December, tech blogger Mike Butcher of Techcrunch UK admitted to stealing the account name of Andy Burnham, the UK Culture Secretary after a grievance involving Burnham’s opinions on net regulation. (I happen to agree that Burnham’s opinions were misguided, but I’m illustrating another point.) That one’s been suspended by Twitter Inc now. If Burnham had been quick to reserve his own name, it wouldn’t have happened.

(Incidentally, there are very few real politicians registered on Twitter, let alone actively using it. In Wales, we’ve seen the Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins and the Lib Dem candidate Alison Goldsworthy.)

This is not confined to individuals, it includes companies and brands as well. Lots of well known brands are taken by fakes.

Now most recently and amazingly, the name BBC on Twitter is being run by a third party, who have made no explicit indication that it’s unofficial. The fact they are pulling in a useful feed of current BBC news stories adds weight to the deception.

Look at my screenshot above. The account has 7,684 followers. This is very dangerous indeed for the BBC’s reputation.

Normally, only an eagle-eyed user would notice, with suspicion, that the only people they’re following back are Sky Sports, Manchester United football team and something called Funny Times. Or would click the profile link to discover the following disclaimer:

The news published on http://www.twitter.com/BBC is syndicated content taken directly from the BBC News website vie their public RSS feed found here. The account is not operated by the BBC but is offered for your convenience so that you may receive the latest news stories from the BBC website whilst using the Twitter Service.

Now though, someone called @sputnik101 discovered this when he complained to the BBC account about their broadcast policy on the DEC charity appeal for Gaza.

He then received a surprising and somewhat inappropriate reply. Here’s more on that story.

As you can see from the comments, somebody at the BBC has finally had the sense to complain to Twitter Inc to ask for the account to be suspended or handed over.

Here at Native, we like Twitter as a communication platform – and have got a lot of benefit from it in terms of contacts, information, useful links and smart conversation. Fortunately the culture of Twitter engenders authenticity and the confirmation of an account being fake, once known, can be spread very rapidly. But now that newer people are joining and taking time to learn how it works, the potential for deception is huge.

If you don’t fancy using it, make sure nobody uses it on your behalf.

If following this advice means registering for Twitter and – at least for now – leaving the account idle with a brief explanation, so be it. Here’s an example.