Towards Datatainment – Working with Data Gods

1 April, 2012 3 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

The following is an article I’ve just written for Leaders in Digital Sport‘s “Leaders” bulletin. The data gods in question are Gavin Fleig and Ed Sulley of the MCFC Performance Analysis team.

Do you know a bit about football? Or a lot? Can you remember the score of a game 5 years ago when you were standing in a stadium on a wet wednesday night and your team lost 3-2 after going down to 10 men in the 63rd minute?

That made-up match might not be the right details, but if you’re a real football fan then you probably remember something similar – as well as a selection of other random details from times past and fixtures forgotten.

Does that make you a statto?

Most people will react badly if you call them a statto. It has become a pejorative term – as portrayed by Skinner and Baddiel‘s Fantasy Football League comedy sidekick or maybe long before that – and although there’s a grudging respect for the feats of memory that sporting stattos display, there’s also a lot of laughter behind the communal hand.

The stereotype is that stattos remember facts. Data. They don’t necessarily remember meaning or turn that data into knowledge or, better still, understanding, let alone the peak of the information pyramid: wisdom.

So data’s got a bad rep – it’s the domain of stattos and geeks.

But I have seen football data that delights.

Over the last 6 months I’ve been working closely with the Performance Analysis team at Manchester City FC. Gavin Fleig and Ed Sulley have been informing and enthusing me (a footballing muggle) with their explanations and demonstrations. They are sporting data gods. 

Every movement of our players in a match, in the gym and on the training pitch is recorded, converted to data, analysed and presented back with expert understanding. It forms part of the whole picture that informs training and performance improvements. No-one here is called a statto and yet they all accept their statto status.

The reason why I’ve been working so closely with them is because I think they hold the solution to a challenging problem for football. It is this: How do you bring together people with a lot of knowledge of the game and those who only have a little? The fan from Manchester and the fan from Minnesota. The established and the uninitiated, or, as I like to call them, the veteran and the newcomer. Of course a Minnesotan might actually be a lifelong soccer fan, it goes without saying, and there are definitely people in the UK with low levels of knowledge (myself included) but generally speaking the average Mancunian knows more than the man in Mumbai.

Frank Skinner, Ed Sulley (Statto) and David Baddiel. (ok, so it’s Angus Loughran who played Statto)

You could argue for hours about what makes a ‘fan’ vs a ‘supporter’ or ‘follower’ but leaving those definitions aside, I believe there are a couple of major challenges for any club that wants to increase the number of people who care (to whatever degree) about the activity of the club, but have a range of experience of the game: 1) veterans do not necessarily welcome newcomers and 2) it is tricky to talk to fans with varying levels of football understanding.

I don’t think that Gavin and Ed have the solution to problem no.1. But I think that data, digital media and performance analysis might hold the solution to no. 2.

In my view, broadcast media is bad at addressing multiple audiences. It picks a target audience and aims at it. In the case of football coverage in this country, the BBC’s MOTD and Sky’s MNF address fans who are closer to the veteran end of the scale. There is little explanation for the layman.

Digital media, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to explain the game to the uninitiated. We have restrictions about what we can do with match footage, but we can use performance data, put it in an application that allows the user to choose a comfortable level of knowledge and let them play with the information. What’s more, they can do it at their own convenience and at their own speed.

This is what takes data into a new sphere – we can move from data journalism through data visualisation and, hopefully, to the holy grail of engaging an audience: data entertainment, or (forgive me) datatainment.

Gavin and Ed have been able to show me how the data can tell a story which gives me greater understanding of the strategic context of a game. I now appreciate some of the chess-playing tactics of managers and the expertise it takes to carry out those plans.

Over the next few months at City, we’ll be starting on a journey towards datatainment. We’ll begin by launching prototypes that start to make the performance data transparent and, with the help of the audience, we’ll progress towards making truly entertaining data-led products.

I can’t wait for the audience’s reaction and I’ve no doubt it will be voluble whether in praise or pillory, but if even just one stato and one newbie both get information and perhaps enjoyment out of our prototypes, then we will have started off in the right direction.

LiveRugby app – second screen or settling an argument?

5 February, 2012 3 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

An iPhone app that has live rugby union data for the 6 Nations and that promises to fulfil my second-screen needs. I had high hopes of you, LiveRugby app, and lovely though the data detail is, you don’t overcome the challenge of entertaining me with data. Or even engaging me. Datatainment delight is still a way off.

Let me go back a step.

I’ve always been more of a rugby follower than a football follower, so I was excited to see that there was a new app, using Opta’s incredible wealth of live data, which would be delivering an experience on the iPhone for the 6 Nations competition.

It’s nice enough. The interface feels all ‘chalk-boardy’ and it’s pretty straightforward to use. I think the interesting stats, the Opta stuff, is too far down the IA. I didn’t download this as a ‘general information about the 6N app’… I downloaded it specifically for in-game data updates so a) make it easier for me to get to them b) set a default auto-refresh that i can change the frequency on, or can turn off – having to hit the refresh button is another user-friction feature.

Oh, and “Don’t have a tv? Never mind watching the game. Use our LIVE commentary!” says the promo copy. Really? You mean I  should read less-than-twitter-length updates? In the Ireland v Wales game that has just finished I counted 71 updates across the course of the match. Bearing in mind it was a fantastic game and so much was happening every 60 seconds, there’s no way you’d want to stick with the app updates. Even if you couldn’t get near to a tv or radio, if you’ve got a smartphone you can still get to the BBC mobile site (there they go, impacting the market again!) for an experience that’s more like the excellent TMS coverage.

I think there’s a fundamental problem with the concept.

Is it trying to be a second-screen app? or a data-resource app?

Use case 1: I’m in the pub and I want to reference back to a match from last weekend and prove an argument about the distribution of rucks, the success of kicks, etc etc. In this case, the app will be great. It still makes the information more difficult to find than I want, but it’s all there.

Use case 2: I’m watching the game / listening to the game and I want to use the app as a second screen to add to my experience of the match. This is where the app stumbles.

There is a problem with the presentation of data. It’s passive. I don’t like passive data. Passive data is difficult to work with. If you can turn it into information, that’s better – but to do that you will need to make some kind of comparison. This app does that – some of the key information, like the fact that Scotland made 68 tackles (all successful) against England’s 153 (of which 14 unsuccessful) is, indeed, presented. But again, it’s done in a rather passive way.

Data – Information – Engagement – Editorial – Entertainment

So you’ve got the data, you’re informing me… but I still have to work hard. You’re a long long way from entertaining me. It’s the editorial layer that’s missing. England were forced to defend by Scotland’s attacking efforts – but a combination of what Gavin Hasings called ‘schoolboy errors’ combined with some resolute English defence meant that Scotland couldn’t convert their opportunities into points. That’s the story here – that’s what the app should be pulling out – that’s what editorial intervention would add.

But if this app is trying to offer passive data, or to inform the pub argument after the event – then it succeeds.

If it’s trying to enhance my in-game experience, then it fails.

There is, of course, the fundamental point that bringing the appreciation of data into live games is difficult. Jonathan Davies on the BBC Sport coverage has a man beside him trying to put together interesting insight into the performance but there’s very little time to do so. Little production time and then little air-time – so his insights have to be very simple and ‘top level’. Of course Davies and the BBC experts could go into great detail, but there just isn’t the time.

Second Screen vs Speed

The same is true for users of second-screen apps. Football and rugby are both fast-moving games and there isn’t time to be digging 4 clicks down into an app and then hitting refresh to get passive information. Sunset and Vine may have done it in cricket, and many US sports have much more time within the flow of the game.

But if the second screen is going to work in football and rugby, then data and editorial will have to work much more actively together to be able to enhance the in-game experience and engage, and even, dare I say it, entertain the audience.

Stop Making Football Data So Much Hard Work!

20 December, 2011 1 comment

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

This is a quick, and ranting, post.

This morning on of our excellent Performance Analysis team here at City pointed me in the direction of the ESPN Gamecast centre for the match on Sunday where City beat Arsenal. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong. But only up to a point. Then I put my “I’m not that much of a football fan” hat on … and I can’t help but spill out reasons why it doesn’t work for me.

So, here’s the 13 things that jump to mind. [Warning, but the end, it’s really winding me up]

  1. I want it full screen
  2. I expected a ‘play’ button to show me stuff. Maybe it could just put one tab after another – morphing along to show me the different things. that would be fun and it would show off the stuff for me like a little preview.
  3. Speaking of play buttons – where’s the video that should be linked into the gamecast – do i have to go somewhere else? this is espn, right?
  4. I clicked players and then silva and it looked like his heat map was all over the pitch – but then i wanted to compare it with the arsenal opposite number – only i don’t know who the opposite number is so i had to ask someone. i also had to ask what RM meant beside the name. Once I’d been told it was Right Midfield, i then compared silva’s heatmap with Alex Song’s… but I was aware that this might not be a good comparison. Is it? Isn’t it? and how the hell would i use this thing to find out? Why are you making this difficult for me to understand things.
  5. I want to compare with previous competitions between arsenal and city.
  6. I see no point in having a tab for ‘goals’ when there was only 1 and this screen shows me nothing.
  7. I want to be able to zoom in on a section of the pitch to see in more detail – then average position seems interesting, but they’re all clustered together and i have to be a surgeon with the mouse to identify different players.
  8. Where’s the colour key for the bottom? why are some names in grey?… oh yeah, because they were subbed. there’s probably a colour key somewhere… but why are you still making this difficult?
  9. I want to see a timeline of the game… to see it developing as it goes – and i want to be able to see it speeded up (or slowed down as i desire)
  10. I’m never going to read the text on the right. Why not compress it into a timeline so that key moments can be highlighted … i need it to show me key sections of commentary, not give me every blow (unless i want to dig that deep)
  11. The Report, Quotes, Commentary, Match Stats tabs are useless.. i barely even saw them.
  12. The whole thing is presented down the page after reams of nav… just give it to me in a nice pop-out… or at least in a clean page.
  13. Can I embed this on a blog? can i share it with friends?
  14. STOP MAKING ME WORK SO BLOODY HARD TO USE THIS THING – I WANT TO ENJOY IT… HELP ME ENJOY IT! I am a lazy sod, so just analyse and interpret on my behalf and then entertain me. ok, thanks, bye.

Ok. So, now that I’ve calmed down…

I suspect ESPN are well aware of all the options and all the complexities of user experience. This is, actually, one of the nicer implementations of this kind of data… But as I’ve previously banged on about, I still think it has a long way to go.

As time goes on and our work at City looks into the possibilities of datatainment it is becoming clear to me that the audience perspective is the essential factor. I may not be the target for ESPN’s gamecast, but despite football’s estimated 3.5bn fans, I still think some of them and the other 2.5bn people on the planet would appreciate a bit of an easier ride.

Either that or I’m just lazy.

Award Aphrodisiac

12 November, 2011 1 comment

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

Odd things happened last night.

I was given an award for being ‘Individual of the Year’ against some very distinguished and successful other nominees. Thank you those of you who tweet-voted and thank you to the judges.

Making an impromptu, rambling, speech

“Deeeecent” award.

Still, it was odd. Good, but odd. Being given an award for yourself is a strange feeling. Clearly I wouldn’t have achieved anything if it hadn’t been for the excellent backing of my boss Ian Cafferky and the support of my team this year, so I owe them big-time. Oh, and especially Victoria Stansfield, our Digital Delivery Manager, I owe her too, for nominating me.

We’d all been having a good, entertaining night at the DADIs in Leeds’ Savile Hall… and thankfully the 15ish category award winners didn’t have the opportunity to make a speech. So when I went up, slightly stunned, shook hand, accepted glass gong, had photo taken… and then, as I was heading off stage I was stopped… and asked to make a speech. I burbled some surprise, some thanks, made a comment about it being beard-related (or maybe ginger quota?) and remarked it’s ‘Deeeecent’. But mainly I was a bit lost for words. Now that’s odd too.

But oddest thing at the very end of a long, good, night was in the bar at the top of the Mint hotel.

Conversation had shifted away from my son’s baptism (the next day) and had us drunkenly doing a Who’s Line Is It Anyway with the aforementioned, rather phallic, gong. Doorstop… Mobile phone… Weapon… and then the young lady beside me goes further.
[imagine a broad Leeds accent]
“I can imagine a few things you could do with that. If you know what I mean.”. Yes, I think we know what you mean. The gestures weren’t needed. And then, as it passes to the next person, she leans closer and, lowering her voice, mutters aggressively “I fookin’ loooove beards.”.

Now *that* was odd.

Best bit of this video is my interview, just over 1min in, where I manage to use the words ‘year’ and ‘gear’ quite a lot.

Strictly Come Datataining – More sequins in sport & the Entertainment Layer

27 September, 2011 3 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

He looked at me quizzically.
“There are times when you come up with ideas and you’re just not sure whether they’re great – or just shit,” I said.  “And sometimes the more you say them, the more they sound like they could be a good idea – but you always wonder if they’re shit and no-one’s telling you. But with this idea, either people I don’t know are being terribly polite, or they’re quietly laughing, but some of them have definitely made encouraging noises.”

Strictly Come Data?

More data in Strictly? More sequins in Sport?

I was, of course, talking about datatainment. Hugo Sharman seems like a very nice chap. I don’t think Deltatre North‘s head would laugh in my face or behind my back – but he was looking quizzical. “Why don’t you tell me, when we get to the end of this, whether you think we should be contributing some ideas for datatainment,” he said, because I don’t think he could work out whether it was a wanky term for something that’s already being done (and that Deltatre do very nicely for lots of clients including the Uefa match day centres) or whether I meant something else.

The truth is, I don’t know. Yet. But I’m feeling confident that we are going to find something new. It’s all about the entertainment filter.
When you look at football match-day centres, or many other sports for that matter, you are confronted with a lot of data visualisation. If you’re a fan and you love your stats, then it’s entertaining. But for me, it makes me have to work too hard. That’s because I’m not a football fan. When it comes to cricket or rugby, I love the challenge of understanding the information – but it sometimes is a challenge. And there’s definitely a kudos in being the one who knows Dan Carter’s kick conversion rate – but a little like I do wish those annoying IBM ad buffers would shut up, I also get a little bored of stats knowledge being something that divides the audience – splitting it into the know-it-alls and the novices. I have to work too hard to get enjoyment out of data for football … I want it made simple, easy, enjoyable. Perhaps this is the effect of sub-optimal data vis. Maybe better design would make it naturally more engaging. But I think it’s more than that – visualisation can tell stories – but I’m not sure it can entertain in the way I mean.

Nice match centre, shame about the result

Talking to Hugo, I suggested it was the difference between watching the Young Musician of the Year and X Factor. But that’s not right – too much genre change and skill variance alongside the entertainment increase. Maybe it’s the difference between Come Dancing and Strictly Come Dancing.  No, we do not need more sequins in football. But when they re-invented the ballroom dancing programme  a few years back, the BBC did a remarkable thing – they managed to popularise the artform in a way that no-one had done since Strictly Ballroom had pastiched and parodied in the great 1992 Aussie film. You didn’t have to know a passo doble from a samba (I can’t even spell them right), and by pairing celeb novices with experts, they gave it the common touch. No wonder John Sargeant and Ann Widdecombe did so well. The judges are a mixture of amateur and expert – but even Craig whassisface, the most pernickety of the lot, explains the detail of the moves.

They opened up ballroom dancing and welcomed in newcomers who knew nothing – surely something that football (and maybe all sports) could do better – and especially something that data visualisation could do better in sport.

By the time I got to the end of my ramble/rant at Hugo, the quizzical look was gone and had been replaced by a smile. “I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think you might be right – maybe there’s an editorial entertainment layer there that we are missing.”. So maybe we are onto something.

In a way, the editorial layer I’m talking about is something that tv punditry alongside performance graphics has been doing for a while. Sky are doing more and more of it, the BBC does plenty (and Deltatre provide that) and even the woeful ITV Rugby World Cup commentary tries to give it a whirl with their touchscreen. What I don’t want is a situation, as ITV have, where subject experts, former and current players, give poorly-enunciated opinions while pressing the odd player image on a touchscreen. I want the data, but I want the opinion, expressed entertainingly, and maybe even with some interactive element. And I want it now.

Jumponaginger.com

16 September, 2011 6 comments

Tremendous work by the chaps behind jumponaginger.com

Reminds me of the flickr group I set up for monitoring the use of redheads in advertising and the media. It’s hardly exhaustive, but you’ll get the general gist. if it’s haircuts or hair products that’s being advertised, red’s great. otherwise it’s generally used to denote ‘oddball’ at best, and ‘freak’ at worst.

Over the years, I’ve blogged a number of times about ginger-related experiences… mostly here.

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Cristiano Ronaldo: the Datatainment star for Sky Sports

12 September, 2011 1 comment

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

OK, so the use of “thrilling” music might be over-egging the pudding somewhat, but there’s some lovely super-slow-mo and data capture from bio-mechanics and a variety of scanning-gizmos in this programme on Sky Sports.

The Castrol Edge site has more, or there’s the twitter hashtag too.

Four parts:

Part 1 – Body Strength: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7vYfKfI87U
Part 2 – Mental Ability: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21AFrsXa7E4
Part 3 – Technique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vyqz9OtTJw
Part 4 – Skill: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbNQ_kCE6V0

A week of MCFC, datatainment and Guardian rants

2 September, 2011 2 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

Thanks to Robert Andrews for the interview and write-up on paidContent where we went through a whole bunch of the digital and media strategy for Manchester City FC. Of course, any one of those things could have been explained a lot more – but maybe that’s for another time.

Only one thing to add to the interview.. I want to make it clear that I’m well aware that ‘datatainment’ is a horrid horrid word. I promise not to come up with more like that.

Also, Joe Weston… the answer’s clearly a very very loud ‘No’: Is Richard Ayers the most influential man in sports and social media? It’s kind of you, but definitely still ‘no’.

And then there was the Guardian blog post and back-page of the sport section last Saturday where Scott Murray wrote a rather remarkable, entertaining and, frankly, odd piece about MCFC’s approach to media. “Manchester City’s film should get an ‘X’ certificate“.

MCFC-Guardian-mcfc-blog-110902I was alerted to the post at about 10am on Saturday morning and once I’d picked my jaw up off the ground, I emailed my boss and the communications director to ask for the ok to make a comment on the blog. What amazed me was how pseud0-intellectualised the piece was… all those arty references to cinema… and how much he’d got carried away. I should add that I thought it was a good blog post – entertaining, well written, bombastic, opinionated and, of course, not based in any truth at all. Because it was a Saturday and even communications directors have lives, it took quite a while for me to get signoff on the comment I wanted to make… but by 10.39pm we were there and I was able to respond. (it’s on page 4 of the comments).

We think the video’s great. But then I would say that, as it was my team that made it. ‬

‪Our club and editorial policy is about giving fans access to the club and that means behind the scenes material is perfect. We know the fans love it because we’ve done loads of things like the Tunnel Cams and the picture galleries of Today at Carrington – and the response is really really good. You can also be sure that if the fans don’t like something, then I hear about it pretty quickly. ‬

Part of ‪my job is to try new things – to innovate in ways that will mean that the fans get more of what they want. And what they want most is access to behind the scenes at the club – access to players. Some things don’t work, of course, but I’m happy to say we’ve done lots that are greatly appreciated as a lot of the comments here show. ‬

‪As for our visual style – well, cinema is orchestrated, but reality tv is much more free-form and that’s the style we go for. Which, to be honest, is why it can look a bit awkward sometimes – but then we’ve had enough reality tv over the last 20 years or so to know that, haven’t we?‬

‪I guess there’s something here about editorial taste. I like the video. The BBC like the video – that’s why they got in touch and ran it on the BBC Sport site. As I write this, 383,081 people have watched it on youtube and some of them must like it. Then there are those that watched it on our website first. But you didn’t like it – and that’s fair enough. ‬

‪Equally, fans liked the ‘Nasri scores’ image from EA. A bit of fun that nicely shows off the game’s amazing graphics. That’s an approach the FIFA game playing audience would appreciate, I think.‬

‪I’d be more than happy to talk to you or the media team and explain our digital and media strategy in detail. ‬

‪In the meantime, as this is a blog with comments I’d just like to add that you missed off the best ever steadicam shot… in the opening sequence of Point Break. ‬

‪thanks, Richard‬
ps. we put another one up, do let me know what you think: Inside City: Nasri’s First Day Training

You should have seen the first version of the response – it had a lot more sarcasm and bombast of my own. It started with “I love blogs. Mainly because they’re not journalism and have no requirement for accuracy, contacting the people you’re writing about or even a suggestion of reporting the truth…”. Probably best that what I commented was a lot more moderate. The main thing was that Mr Murray seemed to be writing from a pre-internet time – with no sense of modern media. In fact I’ve since talked to a couple of Guardian media reporters and they thought it was odd too. Oh well, each to their own.

The most wonderful thing was that, by the time the post had been up even a very short time, a whole bunch of commenters had responded. And what responses they were. Blogger Steven McInerny‘s comment was great and said a lot:

Or you know, maybe it wasn’t an over-the-top dramatisation of his signing, and it wasn’t tightly choreographed and maybe it wasn’t an attempt at projecting self-importance …maybe, just maybe it was quite simply a video that they thought that I, like many other City fans, would find incredibly interesting to see. And I did. I really did. I quite enjoy seeing what goes on behind the scenes.

Because that’s what it was. I really do think it was as simple as that. A behind the scenes look at what happens during a transfer. If anything it was pretty mundane, despite your valiant attempts to dramatise it and paint it as something it wasn’t, Mr Murray. There was no grand entrance. No music. No paths lined in gold, and Garry Cook certainly didn’t have an office and a place to call home glamorous enough to please Scaramanga. It all looked pretty normal. It didn’t pretend to be anything other than that. Perhaps too, Patrick Vieira was simply hanging around to say hello to a friend. Not just to lurk seedily in the shadows and do his best impression of a mobster waiting for the call from the big man. It’s pretty possible that maybe your cynical nature has taken over here, and i’m aware it’s in vogue to laugh at City, but sometimes I think people look a little too hard.

To be fair though…Garry Cook is a bit of a tool. Bless him. He always will be though. It’s just in his nature. So yeah, laugh at him as much as you want, and though silly, the FIFA thing was nothing really either. But you can have that one too if you want.

But please, leave our extra content alone. I enjoy it. It gives me something to watch. It makes everything seem normal, and it definitely goes along way to destroying some myth that a huge wall exists between them and us. If anything it makes the fans club feel closer to the club and I salute that.

And so it went on… comment after comment talking about content, clubs and their approach to media – and lots and lots of them were very supportive of City’s approach and rather circumspect about the blog post. It was a great moment for the club – to have so much support – and in particular, for our media strategy. Syndication is a new thing for a club to do – and it worked. Responding quickly, like a news/media organisation is a new thing to do – and it worked. Even posting an official comment on a blog is a new thing to do.

I wanted to add a post-script to this…

The original video that Mr Murray picked up on was this:


And although there are currently over 1600 comments – the vast majority of them being inter-club abuse – there are a few that are a credit to the Club – and I’ve never seen a bunch like this before. Jim, our Endemol Sport exec producer highlighted these to me:

 
I support Manchester United but I love this! It’s fantastic to have a insight to the ongoings at a football club, even though they are our rivals 🙂
fes9371 1 day ago http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif
 
Arsenal fan, and I love this. I’m not bitter, kolo and Samir are great footballers and good people. I am angry at wenger, not them.
tAcTiCaLnUkE118 1 day ago
 
I’m a Chelsea fan but this is far better than there channel, and kolarov is a legend
JordanRankiin 11 hours ago in playlist Videos from mcfcofficial http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif
 
great videos/channel, very interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes hope the videos keep coming throughout the season. kolarov seems like a right character!!
saros08 2 days ago
 
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m starting to like Man City.
Amino2 2 days ago http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif
 
i wish liverpool did this
YOUNGMr1996 2 days ago
 
Thumbs up for MCFC for putting videos on Youtube now. Some cracking videos have been made in the past two years since the site was relaunched, many better than the MUTV and LTV crap that gets put out if I’m perfectly honest which normally just features a second rate past player just eulogising and stating the bloody obvious.
mancity1000 3 days ago 7
 
Love it. Also not a City fan, but looking how it all looks on the inside of the club, its just great.
VolverinBVB09 3 days ago http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif

So, thanks for the comments, the interaction, the abuse and the plaudits. Here’s to more content and more engagement.

Defining Data Visualisation, Data Journalism & Data Entertainment

21 August, 2011 7 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

After my blog post from last week, Data? Entertainment? You need Datatainment, and a comment about datatainment seeming very close to data visualisation, I thought I’d try to define my thinking on how these terms differ.

  • Data + Visualisation is the process of making the data visible – the representation, such as Nike + or the use of epic, relies upon the data itself being informative or entertaining, but the process of visualisation does not apply an editorial filter. Of course, any design belies the application of some kind of filter – but with visualisation there is an attempt to represent the ‘real’ events or facts.
  • Data + Journalism is using that visibility to investigate an issue or point – it may not necessarily visualise the data for the user, but will use the techniques of visualisation in the journalistic process.
  • Data + Entertainment is where you use data as the primary source of entertainment. You might choose to make the visualisation of raw data entertaining or perhaps use data visualisation as part of the process of entertainment – but there’s definitely a strong editorial control which is focussed on entertaining the audience rather than exposing data.

Let me try to give examples:

Data Vis: Showing the number of check-ins on location based services foursquare and facebook check-in by MCFC fans over the course of the season.

Data Journalism: Using the visualisation to explore the patterns of LBS behaviour on match-days and therefore the stress on local transport infrastructure.

Datatainment: During the pre-match show at City Square, profiling the fan who’d checked-in at the Etihad Stadium the most over the course of the season. Or, bearing in mind that we have a huge number of people who visit us online during a game, perhaps we might also represent the global locations of our fans – maybe using foursquare’s ‘swarm’ approach to identify key hubs of City fandom outside Manchester so that we can bring those fans closer to the match day experience.

There are better ideas of what to do with Datatainment for City, but I won’t write about them here as I’d rather talk to the fans and see if we can deliver them in the real world.

Data? Entertainment? You need Datatainment

17 August, 2011 13 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

[In which I justify the creation of a horrible new term that describes where data and entertainment meet – in this case, through football and it’s fans.]

Datatainment is a new thing. Linguistically it’s a bastard son of Data and Entertainment, with it’s irritating cousins Gamification, Informercial and Advertainment. But I think it’s more than just a stupid word dreamt up to try to kick-start a dull meeting. Could it be a new genre? How does it differ from data journalism? And what does it have to do with football?

Though the journalist in me wants to write a fully thought-out report – the blogger will throw up some thoughts and see if you’ve got anything to say.

Way back

Many years ago I did some work that pioneered online data journalism. I only realised this the other day because, at the time, we didn’t call it that. I was just working on the ‘specials’ team for BBC News Online and 3 of us were dedicated to the Kosovo Conflict special report. One of my jobs was to get the overnight press release from the allied command which detailed the locations and targets of overnight bombing raids. Then I’d make sense of the data, and go to work with Max Gadney, then one of the designers, to turn it into a map which represented the data, but also registered the nature of the target. You may remember, this was the conflict where many claims were made about laser-sighted accuracy – and some of those claims were later found to be overblown. Schools and hospitals got hit – and the data showed it over a month of intense bombing raids.

Little did I know that, many years later, data journalism would become a ‘thing’. A thing many others have studied, researched, honed and blogged about. Something that you can do a course on or can feed with a well-focussed FOI request.

Data Journalism – it’s not Entertainment. It’s not Datatainment.

In my role as Head of Digital for Manchester City FC, I was meeting with a major global hardware and entertainment brand yesterday. When asked what was my next move in innovation – my answer was clear – to make the most of the data. We will lay down a data architecture, and we will invent data products to sit on top. We will use it to entertain and engage. We will use it to involve a wider audience. We get 40,000 people in our stadium, but we get at least 4 times that on our online Match Day Centre (MDC), but the big difference is that the capacity of our stadium is limited. Of course, the capacity online is not.

I’ve whinged about the use of ‘gamification’ as much as the next man. It’s fitting that my spellcheck on this machine has just corrected that word to ‘ramification’. The inimitable Margaret Robertson (@ranarama) has written, among others, just how mis-placed the awarding of points misses the point of how games and game theory can be employed to the benefit of a project. And that’s to say nothing of the badgification (!) that we’ve seen with foursquare and, seemingly, every other venture in the last year. But at least it’s not ‘greenification’ that I heard used at the Power to the Pixel conference keynote last year.

So, what the hell and I doing creating another of these sodding hybrid words.

Datatainment. it’s better than ‘datafication’.

Let me tell you a story. At the drinks after last year’s Story conference I met the chief creative at an award-winning Brighton agency who’d done lots of work with the BBC, Channel 4 and others. I thought to myself ‘excellent, I bet there’s some great stuff he could do for me at Manchester City… I wonder if he’d like to come and have a look at what we’ve got and talk about some opportunities.’

But when I told him that I worked for a football club, the disappointment was palpable. The light in his eyes died and I could see him thinking of a way to get out of there. But I am persistent, if nothing else. I gave him some facts: We have roughly 40000 people who turn up every week to the same place. More and more they turn up for a full day out – and the MCFC experience is one that really moves things beyond turning up a five minutes to 3pm, watching the game and going straight home. Our 40,000 season card holders are passionate and engaged with our brand (forgive me football fans, but you know what I mean). They’re representative of the population in terms of smartphone penetration or computer usage. AND, the vast majority of them carry the seasoncard around with them – a seasoncard that uses an oyster-card-like RFID chip to identify them and store some basic information. Oh, and because I thought it might come in handy, these 40000 peoples’ cards now also have personalised QR codes on them and, just because I could, they have augmented reality markers on the back too. Is that enough to do something cool and interesting with? No? then I told him some more…

In the last couple of months we’ve launched a tiered system of membership to the Club – and for the first time that includes a beginner-level membership – Blue. One of the main audiences that will be most interested in what this has to offer is the overseas audience – the audience who could never get to the ground but still want to be involved. And these Blue membership cards *also* have the RFID, QR and AR elements built in. So where we say 40,000 people have cards today… by the time the ex-pat and overseas audience gets involved, we’ll be talking many more. So, suddenly you’ve got a massive, engaged, excited audience focussing on the same series of events and all with personalised, data-driven, tech-useful clever cards.

Now, if you can’t do something exciting and creative with that lot… Can you imagine the amount of data coming off those cards? location, activity, frequency… and that’s without even adding any other levels of gaming on top. but I didn’t need to labour it. By this time he got the point and could see that maybe football was worth taking a closer look at.

What’s interesting is that this kind of data is just the beginning.

In terms of football data, what we get is phenomenal.
– opta stats – public and professional level telling you everything from a player’s possession rate to his average sprinting speed. and there are also the prozone and venatrack systems available. All this match, and training, performance tracking feeds into the Performance Analysis team – and some of it also goes live into our web-based user-facing Match Day Centre.
Of course there’s also the data we generate from tracking site usage – english and arabic – and on our social and media presences, twitter, Facebook, youtube and flickr.

Then there are things like Fanvision – which has a major impact on user experience in the US market where getting stats on a game, during a game, creates a remarkable added-entertainment layer to American Football and other sports.

Statos have always been present in sport… celebrated in some, shunned in others, but always present. F1 – motorsport in general – massively data dominated. Cricket has the home of sport data – Wisden. Golf is basically a data-driven sport.

And then there’s our partnership with EA SPORTS for FIFA12. Do EA have any data we could work with, do you think? 3m people bought the console game in the UK last year, 10m worldwide. Over a 100m people have purchased it. And another 8m play the online version of the game every year. And do EA have stats to play with … data you could use as prediction engines… data you could use to entertain? It’s already gearing up to be a fun partnership.

That’s Datatainment

So I’ve gone from data journalism to data entertainment – datatainment.
Is this anything new? perhaps not.
If you define data as pieces of information – then you could argue that quiz shows have been examples of datatainment for years. But you’d be wrong.

I can’t remember who said it – and I’m probably misquoting – but there’s a difference between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. At which point it’s beholden on me to also quote the saying “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”

Data is less than the information that’s shared or tested in a quiz show. Data is the raw, unadulterated fact. Moulding those facts into stories – like @mattsheret does so well for last.fm in his role as Data Griot (data storyteller) – is data storytelling. Using facts, like the data from the bombing raids over Kosovo in 1998, and plotting them on a map to expose the detail of whether those laser guided missiles actually *were* as consistently accurate as claimed… or the homicide map of New York… or David McCandless’s work through @infobeautiful and the Guardian …  or using spreadsheets and databases to bring up anomalies in MPs expenses… or the other work showcased at Design of Understanding… these are some of the many excellent examples of data journalism. But when it’s not journalism – when it’s used to inform but, primarily, to delight or inspire or to bring someone closer to a subject they love and give them that warm glow of passion and fun… I submit that this is something else. It’s data entertainment. And that’s what I want to bring to football with @MCFC.

Are there other examples? I’m sure of it. And I’d welcome your thoughts on the nuances I’m missing or the examples that prove or disprove the case.

I may not be allowed to return to London – at least not uninjured – after @matlock @jaggeree and @ammonite promised to do me harm if I kept using the datatainment. But I’ve compounded that now so I will just have to bear with the ‘deadarmtainment’ or the ‘chineseburntainment’ that have been promised. I suffer for my art. Actually, speaking of art – the rather lovely @artfinder app for ipad is, well, art and entertainment, isn’t it? what do you think? Arttainment?

—-

John Kearney’s comment below prompted an attempt to clarify my thinking: Defining Data Journalism, Data Visualisation and Data Entertainment.

Manchester Riot: Madness at the Malmaison

10 August, 2011 2 comments

this is a rather stream-of-consciousness report based on my experience of the last 7 hours. apologies for the lack of critical thinking or reflection (or proper punctuation). more of that tomorrow, perhaps.

It’s like looking through reflective glass onto a different world – only it isn’t… it is clear glass and the policeman on the other side of the glass is looking at me with a face that says “for god’s sake, man, what are you doing – get away from the glass and let us get on with the job”. so I do.

There’s a woman in a decollete little black dress and high heals. The fake tan is too much but she’s giving it everything and her date is in awe of the glamour, but it takes just a moment of standing out on the pavement looking for a taxi to realise that they’re not going anywhere this evening… that they’ll be better to head back inside and get a drink.
The Malmaison staff were excellent. keeping a lid on things. behaving as normal. still serving the steak tartare, still taking the orders and taking the soup off the list because it wasn’t to sir’s liking. but there was an underlying tension. the assistant manager had a cool, calm, jovial face. right up to the point where she said “gentlemen, are you staying in the hotel tonight? well then I suggest that you go to your rooms. They’ve just smashed up the Mint Hotel round the corner and they’re coming this way”. We took her advice.

Little Black Dress and her date are oblivious… they’re virtually sitting in the middle of the foyer, locked together by mouth.

Fourth floor viewpoint

But we stopped off on the 4th floor by the lifts to look out over the front of the hotel. Every now and then a group of young men would saunter by. swaggering. confident. cocky. and clearly cold because their hoods are all up. This, I reflected, was the best moment of their young lives – or at least it looked like it was – they owned the streets. maybe this is the only time they’ve owned the city – felt like it was their’s – dominated.

A young, female, mancunian colleague tweets: “@richardayers There are gangs running round here with axes and hockeysticks”. I suddenly feel like sitting and watching it from a fourth floor window is like watching a roman games. I’m a bit embarrassed. I worry about those of us who have spectated – on tv, in person – and how much that builds the desire for these idiots to act. I worry about my colleague. To be clear, I’ve got nothing to worry about – it’s the people who live here, the people whose community is getting smashed up for no good reason who’ve got the trouble.
The two security guards from the Mal stand outside on the street – looking at the groups that walk by. Doing nothing but looking. nervously.

We started at the stadium

At the start of the evening we’d been in the office. It was 6.30 and I was settling in for another evening’s work at City@Home. But the call came from the police and quickly the word spread … “Police advise that we leave the building. They say that there’s been trouble in the centre of town and they’ve blocked it off so the gangs will be heading this way. The Mercedes showroom have removed all the cars from their forecourt and we should just leave now”.

Now, I’ve spent the last 3 days living in a quiet part of Islington – just a mile or two from the centre of the riots in London… and i’ve left my wife, baby and friends down there… and I remember the IRA bombing campaign in the 80s… and I remember the 7/7 bombings and the t-shirt that had a london underground sign with the station name as ‘Still not scared’. So I’m more annoyed than scared. I had a lot of work to do. But it’s sensible to leave and there’s a lift on offer, so I give myself over to the general mood and head out.

Mr Portugal, Mr New York and myself are all dropped off near the Malmaison which is our home for the evening. On our way walking there we come across groups of teens. Sweet looking, non-hoodie wearing, kids. You can tell there’s an excitement. As we pass, I hear one girl say to another ‘you’ve got to be here – just to see it – haven’t you. you’ve just got to, to see what’s going to happen’.

As we came round to the front of the hotel, it was an odd sight. A main street quietened. Police in a line at either end. Some strewn rubbish up the road. A smashed bus stop. The ‘gang’ – or do we call them criminals? ‘horde’? – had just been through. Police were directing us down other roads – but “not through here, sir”.  I can only think to say to the young PC “thanks for all you’re doing. I don’t mean to be patronising, but carry on the good work.” “thank you sir,” he says “enjoy your evening”.

As we stood looking at the officers and the debris, 4 kids cycled into the area on street-versions of mountain-bikes. All 4 between 17 and 20 years old, dark clothing, two of (I’m guessing of course) Somali descent, two with blackberries in hand as they were riding. Nothing unusual so far. What *was* unusual is that they cycled up to where the police stood, circled around, then over to where the debris was, circled around again, then back to where they entered the street and circled once more – checking, looking, assessing, chatting between them… and then there was a decision to move on and they accelerated off back down the side-street where they’d come from.  Now I’m all for encouraging pedal power – and normally I’d say it’s good for the environment – but there was something oddly threatening as these kids were scoping what was going on. It’s all too tempting to get drawn into dramatic analogies, but the movement on the bikes had a sweeping, stealthy and threatening grace to it… it felt like a 4 hawks swooping to check out a field. “Why don’t the police just arrest them?” my colleague asks – and we hear from the hotel assistant manager that the police *have* been taking suspicious people off the streets earlier in the evening, but nonetheless I answer, “What are they going to arrest them for? Cycling with intent?”.

The American I’m with just can’t get over what’s going on. He’s been in the country for 5 days – literally – and it’s blowing his mind. Several times he says “but this just wouldn’t happen in the states. we’d have the navy seals on the street”. I don’t think you would – but i get the point. “we’d have the army. this would have been stamped out right away. what’s stopping the police sorting it out?” His disbelief is palpable, and perhaps even endearing. I try to explain that we have a tradition of not calling the army onto the streets – and caveat that Northern Ireland isn’t a good example. I try to explain that our police often take a more steady approach – intervene if there’s something life-threatening, but otherwise, let it settle of its own accord… and then use the unparalleled cctv coverage in our country to make sure that the right people are prosecuted.

“What caused this?” he asks again and again. … and I don’t have a better answer than, ‘it’s complicated’. Socio-economic reasons – kids frustrations- underclass – disenchantment – criminality – yobbery… even just plain ‘doing it for the hell of it’ – like the tweet that said “It’s like grand theft auto” ..these are all too complex answers and the combination of them and others make it even less fathomable.

I came up to Manchester this morning and tweeted “feels odd to leave my city in the wake of the riots and to be heading to calm Manchester”. Not calm any more. But Little Black Dress and White T-shirt Man don’t care. They’ve taken the blitz-spirit to heart and head to bed. Love, or something, conquers all.
For most of our meal we didn’t really notice the riots outside our hotel. We were talking business, putting the company to rights, ordering the burger and thinking about where my Portuguese and American colleague should live. Sadly, this madness interjects. What a welcome to our country.

Beard Infographic

29 June, 2011 1 comment

Excellent work by Matt McInerney of pixelspread.com – and I think, as someone who’s done some time on the unsavoury/threatening borders but now, hopefully, resides in ‘very trustworthy’, that it’s pretty accurate too. (click the image to make it bigger)

 

 

 

 

Thor goes Triple A

15 June, 2011 Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

Arab Spring – A Broadcasting Revolution (or Broadcaster Evolution?)

16 May, 2011 2 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

“You should see my four-year-old with an ipad / mouse / iphone / tv remote / [insert relevant period technology]”.

This is one of the phrases that winds me up most when I’m at a conference, listening to someone speak about the internet with the new-found fervor of the recent convert. Don’t get me wrong, I love converts and their enthusiasm. I love tech-savvy four-year-olds  – but I don’t want to be sitting in an audience being lectured about a 10 year old behaviour pattern they’ve only just discovered. That’s stage 1: zealotry. Tonight was all about stage 2 but more of that in a minute.

The event was the Bafta hosted Arab Spring – A Broadcasting Revolution with a top quality panel of journalist experts from across the mainstream media.

It was Jon Williams of the BBC who raised my heckles. “Twitter is nothing new, it’s just like another tips line” he said, clearly feeling no need to put any qualification around that, and “social media doesn’t replace journalism, it complements it”. Of course he ended the discussion saying “we are privileged to be reporting such extraordinary moments” but only after he’d sidelined twitter as just another source. In fact, it was left to Jon Snow to be excited – to point out that the difference with twitter is that one comment can lead to another and another from multiple sources which can lead to links, data, pictures and video – and all within seconds because the scale and range of the network is so huge in comparison with anything we’ve known before. Sadly this glimmer of excitement and enthusiasm quickly faded as he realised that he was supposed to be chairing – but it seemed like he knew more about social media than anyone else on the panel.

Stage 2: Ennui.

‘It’s nothing new. We’ve seen this before. The story isn’t the technology, it’s the people. The technology is just a platform.’ These are all phrases with enough truth about them to cause plenty of damage to a media organisation. They cause damage because they breed complacency and they downgrade awareness of and investment in new technology.

At this point, I should caveat that I don’t know Mr Williams (@WilliamJon). In fact, I used to work with Sky’s Sarah Whitehead (@swhitehead1) when she was at the BBC, but other than that, I don’t know the panellists and I haven’t worked inside a news broadcaster for 10 years – so there’s a chance that last night’s panel wasn’t the best representation of what goes on within the BBC, Sky, ITN, Al Jazeerah, etc. But seeing as the second half of the evening was supposed to be dedicated to debating whether social media had been shown to revolutionise broadcasting in the case of the Arab Spring, I felt we didn’t even scratch the surface. Ironically, but not surprisingly, there was no hashtag for the debate, but thanks to @IanKearney for tweeting.

The stories on covering conflicts were impressive, harrowing, fascinating. The journalistic credentials were unparalleled. But the level of digital media debate was low. Perhaps I was in the wrong place, but it’s not just that I wanted to hear more geek talk. It gave me genuine concern that a lack of discussion might cover a lack of knowledge or interest…

Stage 2: Ennui is what happens when Media Executive A has gone through the excited digital stage. In fact, they’ve been through fear, opportunity, hope, excitement, over-excitement, disappointment… and now they’re just bored of the excitable digital-types who used to invade their newsrooms (publishing offices, media centres etc etc). Now they know all the TLAs, they’ve been on all the digital media courses, they know the difference between a follow and a retweet – and to the bosses on high (who know they don’t know anything) they sound digital. Or digital enough.

Other options

The panel was made up of hugely experienced and esteemed journalists with long and decorated careers in journalism and broadcasting. Sadly, there were no other voices involved – none that could have talked through the importance of social media. Oh for a Clay Shirky or Jay Rosen or Jeff Jarvis or Emily Bell or Aleks Krotowski or Kevin Anderson or any of a long list of others. Steve Herrmann (@BBCSteveH), the BBC’s News Online Editor would have had an interesting perspective, perhaps.

There was no discussion of ‘twitter to break the news, facebook to organise, youtube to share’. There was no mention of journalists being held to account by online communities who know the subject matter better – and by the impact of that on working processes – how being part of an ecosystem or a conversation has revolutionised reporting at the Guardian and other media institutions. Yes, I could have spoken up – but questions from the floor by digital media practitioners always end up sounding like rants – and that never helps the cause. The debate itself needed to be more balanced – or at least more focussed on the practice of using social media in newsgathering. Yes, there were interviewees in the VT piece about social media who knew what they were about, like Alex Gubbay (@alexgubbay) (formerly,  BBC News social media chief, now moving to Johnston Press), but these weren’t the voices on tonight’s panel.

There was some good conversation stimulated by @stewartpurvis around impartiality. But there was scant discussion of anonymity and the essential and interesting place it holds within internet-based discussion. And there appeared limited awareness of the fundamental scale of social media and the power of the scale of the network.

Second source? How about hundreds?

There was mention of getting a second source – but this wasn’t extended into the idea to get multiple sources – that scale means mass-corroboration as well as mass-collaboration. I’ve always found an important premise is to understand a user’s provenance online – their history and profile within the community and conversation ecosystem where they reside.

[alert: incoming personal anecdote confirming experience of conflict reporting and internet heritage]

When I worked on the Kosovo Special Report on BBC News Online in 1998, there were 3 of us in the team. I handled what we’d now call the data journalism of updating the daily record of allied bombings. But if social media had been around I could have corroborated those stories – I could have shown pictures of schools bombed-out when Nato said it was an armoury. However, this also highlights the issue of scale again: with twitter, facebook and youtube – and the need for broadcasters’ representatives to reside in the online community so that you can know the reputation and reliability of a source, or to use mass-corroboration as your principle – you need resource, huge resource, to be able to effectively operate as a broadcast journalist body. It’s a manpower challenge.

What worried me most about Mr Williams comments – and the rest of the panel – was that there seemed to be no sense of being in a media revolution. As Clay Shirky says (and I paraphrase)

“In a revolution, no-one knows how it’s going to play out – not even the revolutionaries”

But if you think twitter is just like another tips line – then you might not have your eyes on the horizon. You might not realise that we don’t know what the next massive step will be in the digital impact on how we report news, cover elections, reflect revolutions. And if you’re not constantly adapting and working on changing your organisation to the next technological thing that comes out, then you risk missing the nuances of revolution because all you can do is react to the barrage of voices that hits you when massive news stories break.

Why does any of this really matter? The panel all agreed that our journalistic purpose is to uncover truth  – to go, to see, to tell what we see – but my worry is this: if you’re not alert to the nuances of technology; if you think that we’ve been through the digital revolution and we’ve got it covered; if you think that all your journalists are more than capable and digital-enough then the risk is that the authorities, like those in Bahrain, will learn to use the internet and social media in better and more effective ways – and truth will just become increasingly difficult to find. Complacency about the need to be alert, to invest and to adapt our media organisations to the ever-moving point in the revolution of digital media felt heavy in the air tonight. I hope that digital revolution in these companies is still going on and that we haven’t slowed it down into a complacent, bored, regressive stage in broadcaster evolution.

It would be a mistake to judge an entire organisation by the one person who was picked (or available) to speak on a panel. I’m sure there are some excellent digital people in those companies and I would ask Bafta, next time, to get them in on the debate.

Tonight’s panel was chaired by Jon Snow ( @jonsnowC4) with

James Brabazon, Freelance Journalist & Trustee, The Rory Peck Trust – @james_brabazon

Ghazi Gheblawi, Libyan Author and Blogger – @Gheblawi

Bill Neely, International Editor ITV News – @billneelyitv

Jacky Rowland, Senior Correspondent Al Jazeera English – @jackyaljaz

Sarah Whitehead, Head of International News, Sky News – @swhitehead1

Jon Williams, BBC World News Editor – @WilliamsJon

@richardayers

www.linkedin.com/richardayers

FA Cup Final day

15 May, 2011 1 comment

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

What a day.

Everyone from MCFC is exhausted. The build-up has been unbelievable (as Micah Richards would say – it’s his only adjective) and then you add the adrenalin, the pressure, the happiness… and I don’t really think it’s sunk in for them all.

When I left the Mandarin Oriental at midnight, there were a smattering of stragglers, but the majority of the party had made its way to bed. No hijinks, no madness, none of the high-rolling scandal the papers might talk about. This was a bunch of people who are knackered and genuinely over-wraught.

As one said to me, her first game was in 1977, when she was 6, and the last win had been 1976… so it’s been all her life – all of it – that she’s been waiting for this moment. The emotion was palpable. Several times people talked me through how it felt and nearly came to tears. Bless him, but the match-day operations director has, in the last 10 days, become a father again, seen the club he’s worked for for 14 years reach the qualification stage of the Champions’ League… and now win the FA Cup. Remarkable.

The digital media team have done me proud as well. 16 pieces on video which will make more than that by the time we’ve edited and divided it into chunks, text stories, picture galleries, fan reaction, twitter commentary, Match Day Centre live coverage,…

One of our guys has followed the cup all the back to Manchester on the train.

We had 20 minutes IN THE CHANGING ROOM! which is unheard of and will be great viewing.

And, as Garry Cook said in his emotional, inspirational speech – it’s just the beginning of more great things to come…

Make yourself redundant, it’ll be a good thing

9 May, 2011 2 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

It’s Friday afternoon. The page has been prepared, it’s live on the web, only no-one knows it’s there.

Maybe I could just quietly leave it there for a while, unpublicised, and no-one would ever see it… then I could go on working here, having a fine time, and I’d never get replaced. Hold on… that’s not the plan. So I write the tweet and hit send.

“This is a very good job. Really. I should know, I’ve been doing it for 6 mths. You want it? http://bit.ly/kOuV1W #jobs”

<gulp> The I go to linkedin and do the same. <gulp> There’s no going back. I’m making yourself redundant.

And…. breathe.

Once, twice, three times redundant…

Making yourself redundant is a bizarre experience. Even though each time it has been part of my plan, it’s always weird.

I’m not talking about the “looking for a payout” redundancy that The Idler so deftly advises, nor the “I’m a Director, how can I make myself redundant” advice that’s needed for financial and legal reasons when you’re shutting down or selling a company.

No, I’m talking about when you make the “Right” move because it’s right for the business… and because you’ve done your work, delivered what you planned, and now need to take a step backward.

At Magic Lantern Productions we decided to restructure the company and as the MD I was in the odd position of planning to reduce headcount – including getting rid of my own position. Felt odd, and (of course) it was a move full of concern for my financial future – but without a doubt it was the right thing to do for the business.

At Trinity Mirror, I was the first Web Publishing Director in Regionals… so on an interim role to see if it worked, set up the strategy, be an agent of change, get things going… and then hand over to someone so they could run it full-time. It was supposed to be for 6 months and ended up being for 20.

And now, at the wonderful Manchester City FC I am going through it again. City is at a wonderful point in its digital growth and the job is, quite genuinely, the best I’ve ever had… good people, clear decision making/focus/audience/subject matter, passion and a load of good business to do around the club. What’s not to like? Only one thing… I think you need to be in Manchester and run full-pelt at this stage in the company’s growth. And I’m going to become a father in London very (very!) shortly… so I don’t want to be spend nights a week away from all that. (or maybe I’m mad and it would be the perfect way to get some sleep…hmmm..)

Let go, be happy (and effective)

Management books often say you should aim to make yourself redundant – and it’s often credited to Henry Ford – but whoever said it, I believe in the epithet. It means you train people to do what needs doing better than you can do it as part of your role. It means you hire people who are brighter than you and work hard to make their work easier. It means you set yourself free to look upward and outward and to spot the next new, exciting thing to work on.

As Bre Pettis of MakerBot said to me the other day:

“If I spend more than an hour a day on it, then it should be someone’s full-time job. So I go get someone.”

Of course, the downside is that you have to be live through the insecurity and the network’s reaction.

Friday evening saw a deluge of tweets, emails and texts from people saying “so, you’ve decided to move on? why? what’s wrong?” or “Why aren’t you doing it, if it’s so good?”. It’s easy to see how people get the wrong end of the stick. Which is why I thought it would be a good idea to write this up. Although I hope to stay involved with City from a distance, I don’t have the next (non-parenting) project lined up. I have no doubt that I’ve done the right thing (again) but that doesn’t stop me being jealous, already, of the person who gets the job.

10 years experience – too much?

Speaking of which, let me give a little context on why I’m asking for 10 year of experience in the role profile. City’s inestimable HR director asked the question :

“Why is it so important to have 10 years experience… with technology moving so fast, does it really matter?”

To which I answered:

10 years is important because …
1) everyone claims more experience than they actually have – so if we set the bar at 10, then people with 5 will still apply but also, much more importantly,
2) ten years ago the .com bubble burst… so what i’m asking for is people who were around *before*. Why? The people who were involved in the first wave of growth of new technology then had to live through and deal with the aftermath of over-excitement. they were the ones who learnt to adapt and be flexible with creativity, technology, commerciality. the people who came later didn’t learn those skills of adapting which are so key to the stage this business is in.
3) Ideally we want someone who has similar skills and experience as I had 5 years ago… and I’ve been doing this 16 years, so 10 is about right.

You’re right, the technology changes fast. But that’s why it’s essential you get someone who has long and hard-won experience of driving a business while dealing with / adapting to change.  It’s not that there aren’t good people out there who have 5 years experience – it’s just that there are lots of charlatans and I wanted to set the bar high.

If you’re applying for this role, thank you and good luck.

Full role profile and job application details here: www.mcfc.co.uk/joinus

In case you arrived at this page looking for some good advice on redundancy, then here are some useful links:

HMRC Advice on redundancy

In-Business.co.uk: How do I make myself redundant

Phil Gyford’s excellent guide to being a freelancer

Employment lawyers I can highly recommend: Audrey Onwukwe at Levenes (UK, London and Birmingham offices)

Eco-tourism in South Africa

24 April, 2011 Leave a comment

South African holiday which led to this post… which went on ecobomb.com and on alertme.com too. The basic gist is how to have a long-haul holiday if you’re supposed to be green.

Politics and the internet – a basic point

24 April, 2011 1 comment

Whenever I think that the basic understanding of media and the internet *must* have penetrated through most, if not all, levels of society I always seem to get brought up short.

But with the success of the Obama e-election campaign and then the attempts of our various political parties at the last UK election to embrace online campaigning, you would think that British politics has got some idea of the basics. right? right?

Ssee below for an example of local council-level misunderstanding.

I’m sure it doesn’t really matter that much, Mrs Geary… but in future, if you’d like the electorate to get in touch with you, to have a direct line to their representative, to be able to contact you… then wouldn’t it be better to have your own email address and not have to use your husband’s?

Just a thought.

Green blog post for AlertMe

29 January, 2011 Leave a comment

From a couple of weeks back, but in my @ecoginge persona and as part of the ecobomb project, I wrote a blog post for the chaps over at home energy smartmeter company AlertMe: “Breaking the law on energy – over Sunday lunch”

 

Inspiration

29 January, 2011 1 comment

Something good must have happened to bring me back to the blog after 4 months. Well, it did, yesterday.

I had the pleasure of helping Max Gadney organise the inaugural Design of Understanding conference which went very well yesterday – at least the reaction on twitter seems to have been good and there are some nice notes from Eva-Lotta Lamm here. Almost half the people there were designers of one form or another – and half the speakers weren’t.

I’m a content guy and a commercial guy – a hybrid – and I’m a wannabe designer/technologist. Fifteen years of working with designers and developers of various kinds has always been fun and stimulating – and though I’ve acquired the odd skill here and there in those disciplines, I’m not a practitioner. For me the day was inspiring precisely because I was hearing from exciting people who come from an area outside my expertise.

So many ideas pop to mind, so many thoughts to follow up – so I shall eschew golf and cinema and beer this weekend and I shall be spending it online trying to get a handle on the many sparks of inspiration.

One final thought: There should be a rule that you have to go to a minimum of three conferences a year, and that two of those have to be outside your particular professional area – but in something related to your work. That’s the only way to ensure new, enlightening, inspiring perspectives. Or, at least, it’s the best way to develop yourself if, like me, you’re a hybrid.

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