NetExpo Parties Like It's 1997

When something bills itself in 2009 as “Ireland’s first online only event” – which is an epic pile of spinning PR bullshit – you know you’re off to a great start. And when it’s promoted with a video as completely and totally hilarious as this one, you know this “dazzling selling experience” is going to be too good to miss.

And so it proved to be with NetExpo’s  Search Event 2009. I could try to explain to you the complete and utter trainwreck this turkey turned out to be when it opened today, but I genuinely don’t think I could do it justice and a picture is, as they say, worth a thousand words. Click for larger images:

Main Hall

That’s the “Main Hall” – you have to click the tiny text for Hall A or Hall B to visit the exhibition halls:

Hall B

This is Hall B. You can’t actually click any of those exhibition booths – which is just as well because how much would you not want to be the tiny ones at the back? – you have to click the imperceptible “Show Booths” link at the top:

Example Booth

And that brings us to the “exhibitors.” This is the Blacknight, erm, booth. I don’t think Blacknight is particularly being punished for something; they all more or less look like that.

There are a million crap ideas crappily executed every day, so I’m not sure why I find this one so completely irksome. I think it has something to do with the fact that they’ve illegitimately promoted it as some kind of ground-breaking first for Ireland,when it is in fact the opposite of ground-breaking and what’s more, completely embarassing.

In all seriousness, it’s like these people just discovered the internet the day before yesterday and have stepped straight into a time machine headed for 1997. They’re saying things like “deliver your sales message to customers new and old right into where they work during their regular business hours!” and I think they actually mean it. They have a blog entry titled “Why you should do business online” and I think they mean that, too.

The thing is, this is not the worst idea ever. There is arguably a market for and a value to bringing companies together in a virtual space for time-limited promotional event with a lot of buzz around it. But the execution here is just so, so appalling that I actually called a few exhibitors to find out if they knew it was going to be like this – because I couldn’t believe anyone had signed up for this pile of horsehit.

Predictably, the most common response was “Oh my God. Oh my GOD. OH MY GOD!” followed by the sound of foreheads crashing into keyboards. So I’m guessing no.

Hilariously, under each booth is scrolling text that says If You Would Like To Find Out More About Hosting Your Own Online Expo….Contact Us At…

That would be, yes?

Email Signatures for Idiots

Email signature FAIL

I know that I am a very cranky person, but the number of people who fail at the most basic level of internet communication sincerely boggles the mind. I’m not talking about people who can’t write, can’t spell, or try to paste PowerPoint slides into their emails. I’m talking about people who do not have the basic courtesy to include an email signature at the bottom of every email.

Honest to God, I have better things to do than spend my life looking up your contact details on your website every time I need to get in touch with you. And if I have to go back through 162 emails to find the one where you actually gave me your mobile number, I’m going to be swallowing a metric tonne of irritation by the time I manage to get ahold of you.

Everyone communicating from a company, even as a sole trader, needs an email signature, and needs to include it on every email by default. Ideally, the signature should follow an intelligent plain text format: everything I need to get in touch with you should be visible, even to those of us who do not have HTML turned on in emails.

Here’s mine:

Sabrina Dent
Web Design, Marketing & Communications
P: 021 234 9938
M: 085 702 8212

Arguably, if you’re getting email from me, you probably don’t need my email address. I include this to make it easy for people to pass on my complete contact details to other folks with a simple cut and paste. It adds one line and I think it’s a good idea.

Obviously, a lot of people include the country code for their numbers in their email footer. This is good practice for international globetrotters, but I am not one. I prefer to work mostly in Ireland with Irish clients, and fucking up the aesthetics of my email signature annoys me at least as much as working with clients in LA.

Here are some things that are not in my email footer and drive me crazy in other people’s:

  • The sender’s name rendered as anything other than the plainest possible text. I understand that you’re incredibly creative and that being a corporate drone sucks, but this is not the medium to demonstrate your personal design flair.
  • An embedded logo graphic. I’m communicating with a person, not a brand. If I can’t remember what company you’re with, you have bigger issues than the tragedy that is your email signature.
  • A great big green P and a note to please consider the environment before printing this email. Do I look like an idiot? I haven’t printed an email that isn’t a plane ticket since 1997, so please piss off and mind your own carbon footprint.

To recap: Email is a communication medium. Your email signature should make it easy for me to communicate with you, first by existing and secondly by containing the stripped down essentials I need in order to, you know, communicate with you.

And if you make me turn on HTML to do that, I will hate you forever.

Searchles: Artles, Tactles and Clueles

This afternoon, I received an email off my contact form from the unfortunately named Elias Shams at the unfortunately named Searchles. According to the email footer, “Searchles” rhymes with “circles.” I can’t help thinking, though, that there’s a fundamental problem with you brand when you have to point out to people that it does not rhyme with words like artless, tactless and clueless.

Anyway, the email just smelled spammy; it was not addressed to me personally, and not about anything I’ve ever expressed any interest in. So I double-checked with Twitter and indeed: Suzy got it once, Damien twice, Darragh twice, Lexia twice, and Redmum also twice.

I believe, campers, that we call this Yahtzee!

Just to be clear, I don’t mind at all when people use my contact form to contact me. I do mind, however, when people use it as a dumbwaiter for delivering piping hot spam direct to a random Inbox. And I particularly mind it when the communication attempt is as wildly inept as Elias’ was:

  • If you want to contact me, have the courtesy to actually figure out my name and address me. (BIG HINT: My name is IN MY URL.) It helps to foster the illusion that this is at least a little bit about me and not all about you.
  • The email has six links to six different sites within it. You have my attention for less than thirty seconds; give me ONE PLACE to go.
  • It has no specific call to action. Again, you have my attention for less than thirty seconds; give me ONE THING to do.

A good pitch email just isn’t that hard to put together. And when you’re sending it to hundreds or thousands of bloggers, each one vocal and each one carting around their own personal soapbox, it’s particularly important that you get it right.

As I pointed out to Elias when I wrote back to him, if you spend half as much time copywriting your email as you do trawling for random bloggers to send it to, you’re much more likely to end up with a pitch that doesn’t suck out loud.

Elias replied to tell me that this wasn’t spam, that he picked me to write to because of the Ladies Tea party post; apparently, he loves women and thinks we’re the best thing ever. (I’m sure Damien and Darragh will be totally flattered to hear that.) And apparently, my little missive has broken him as a man:

I can’t believe you think my pitch suck :-( u just put a huge crack on my heart :-(

And so, courtesy of Suzy, I leave this as consolation for poor Elias:

[youtube width=”415″ height=”336″][/youtube]

FOWA: The Future Looks Mighty Male

Ireland squealed with delight today with the news that FOWA (Future of Web Apps) is coming to Dublin in March. I, too, was delighted – until I looked at the speakers list.

It’s not that I don’t like who’s speaking. It’s that I don’t like who isn’t speaking at Future of Web Apps:

  • FOWA Dublin: 8 Male, 1 Female.

OK, I hear you say, but be fair. It’s a small speaker lineup. And if we decide that nobody cares about Silverlight, for example, there’s no reason to invite MS developer and Silverlight evangelist Martha Rotter to travel all the way from Dublin to, umm, Dublin. So let’s just be generous and assume that with a bigger pool of speakers, they do a little better.

  • FOWA Miami: 10 Male, 0 Female.

Well, everyone knows that female developers are very hard to come by. We’ll ignore for the moment that FOWA clearly isn’t limited to developers – Gary Vaynerchuck is an amazing speaker who clearly really gets the web, but the guy couldn’t program his way out of an open paper bag – and move on to a more female friendly field. After all, if some random guy in Belfast could pick out 26 amazing female designers, surely the guys at FOWA managed to dig up a couple for Future of Web Design.

  • FOWD NYC: 17 Male, 1 Female.

Perhaps web design isn’t as female-friendly as I thought it was. Given that, nobody should be shocked to discover that next week’s Future of Mobile in London isn’t exactly heavily weighted towards estrogen, either:

  • FOM London: 35 Male, 3 Female.

On the plus side, Helen, Jemima and Vero clearly needn’t worry about the queue for the ladies’ room.

Seriously, I call bullshit on this. For those of you playing along at home, that is 70 men and 5 women across all upcoming conferences. That is simply not good enough, on any count, at any of these conferences.

The FOWA/D/MO events are put on by Casonified, a brilliant web dev group with a very credible proportion of women, both leading and supporting in a vibrant, high-profile company. According to their website, “It’s important to us to always be honest, even when it’s not convenient.”

And I think that if we’re honest here, getting the outstanding, credible women into these lineups often isn’t convenient. It requires that you acknowledge that the gender balance in these fields is fucked. It requires you to make an effort to push forward some role models for the next generation of women coming up in these industries. And it also requires that you make an effort to recruit the outstanding women across these sectors instead of waiting for them to come to you.

Because statistically, they simply will not. But they need to be there – because it’s important to the rest of us to see them so that we’ll step forward, too.

It's a blog post, not a freakin' blog

For the record, and for the benefit of people who really should know better – namely, people with blogs:

  • The container is a blog.
  • The entries held within it are blog posts.
  • That’s it. It’s pretty simple.

Please stop inviting people to read your “latest blog.” It makes you sound like a moron and makes the pedants among us want to start pulling teeth. With pliers.

Thank you.

Today’s post sponsored by six bloggers, two “social media specialists,” one journalist, and by the letters P, M and T.

Qwitter is for Friends

Yesterday, the guys at Contrast launched Qwitter, a simple little app that sends you an email when one of your Twitter followers drops you.

This does not sound like the stuff of which social network meltdowns are made. But Qwitter was met with some frankly histrionic opinions along the lines of:

Qwitter… is likely to break relationships, sometimes before they’ve had an opportunity to prosper.

Speaking for those of us sitting at the Big Kids Table, this seems a little silly. Because if there is one thing Twitter is not good at, it’s demonstrating who does or does not like you.

Here are some reasons I may un-follow someone I like plenty:

  • Dead Air: I prune periodically. If I check your stream and you have not tweeted in a week because unbeknownst to me you’re on holiday, in hospital or dead, I’ll unfollow.
  • Noise Convergence: I am a fan of John Williams, despite the fact he’s a noisy fecker. However, he also has 30 people on his list that I have on mine. When I follow him, I get all the conversations between him and all those other people, and my Twitter stream triples in volume.
  • RSS Preference: I have subbed to a handful of people’s Twitter streams in my RSS reader. For people who throw out a lot of links, are in wildly different time zones than me, or who Twitter with interesting people not on my list, this is a better exploratory venue for me.
  • Interest Mismatch: You may be a fascinating friend in person but tweet predominantly about Rails or your new Foo startup. I hate Rails and I’m never going to use Foo, so let’s just have lunch.

I thought Eoghan McCabe’s response to the Qwitter teapot tempest was right on the money. Were there an 02 award for Blog Comment of the Month, I would nominate it.

I add and drop people all the time on Twitter. I assume people add and drop me all the time, too, but since I don’t keep an ego-vigilant eye on my follower count, I really have no idea. I did, however, let people know that if they wanted to drop me, I wasn’t going to have a hissy fit about it now that I’ll get a notice.

Nor, for the record, am I going to send them email to ask them why, or expect some kind of explanation to turn up in my Inbox.

Seriously, who has time for that level of neurosis?

Update: Since I was unable to grace Eoghan McCabe with an award, I sent him flowers instead, with the following card:

Watching Concrete Dry


I have learned an important lesson in the past few days and that lesson is: you cannot properly manage a house renovation project and work 80 hours a week. Attempting to do this results in the following litany of small scale disasters:

  • €5000 worth of the wrong wooden windows being installed in your house.
  • Selecting paint directly from the Dulux catalogue instead of using test pots and then realising you have picked the most revolting colour on God’s green earth, but only after it’s already on your walls.
  • Saying “yes” to the idea of jacking up the floors and pouring new concrete without realising that whilst concrete dries very quickly, it takes months to properly cure in wet Ireland.
  • Needing to wait more than eight more weeks to lay the gorgeous hardwood floors you bought ages ago because they can’t be installed until the fucking concrete dries.
  • Having to rush to B&Q at 10 am to pick emergency carpet and tiles because the flooring guys are arriving at noon to cover the concrete that is now the bane of your existence in something – anything – you can live with until the bloody stuff cures.

I officially hate, hate, hate concrete.

Despite the fact that this house is nowhere near complete (and now won’t be for months – did I mention that part?) we are moving in on Monday. Working 80 hours a week also means that of course, we have not even begun to pack yet, so this weekend will no doubt be tons of fun.

The move also means that I am taking next week off, so if you’re trying to reach me, your choices are: a) drop by the new abode, find the boxes with all the telephone and computer bits, and network the house so that you can call or email me, or b) wait a week, by which point I should be a much more pleasant person to talk to.

The first option would be more helpful, though.

CrowdSpring Spam – Fresh and Tasty

crowdSPRING spam

Luckily I am short on sleep, low on health and about a month behind everything I need to do, so I don’t have a lot of spare time to spend bitching. So I’ll just get straight to the point of what’s got my panties in a wad this evening.

I got an email tonight from  Angeline Vuong at CrowdSpring. It was also to Angeline Vuong at CrowdSpring; it was a mass email that read thusly:

Hi there,

I’m Angeline, crowdSPRING’s new Community Manager. I saw you used Twitter and wanted to just say hello. If we’re not friends yet, feel free to follow us at We love to keep in touch with our creatives and buyers..I post lots of interesting / informative blog links, promote designers, and give hints at really cool upcoming projects of interest. Hope to see you on the site. Feel free to say hi!


My response to this was “feel free to kiss my ass” but my email was slightly more polite than that. Some pertinent facts:

  • I am in CrowdSpring’s database, in so far as I have a working login there. I have never used the service, never posted a project, never bid on a project, never posted in the forums, never filled out any profile information there. I am not “in touch” with CrowdSpring in any sense of the word, nor am I any kind of community member.
  •  To the best of my knowledge, I have not at any point provided CrowdSpring with my Twitter details. Their privacy policy doesn’t say they collect that data, either.
  • Their privacy policy does say that they may tell me about “targeted marketing, service updates, and promotional offers based on your specific preferences” – and my specific preferences are set to No way, Jose. Seriously, that’s what the check box option says. (The internet, it is killing me with these hipster kids…)

OK, so according to Sabrina Dent’s Dictionary of Bitch, the above email qualifies as a tasty processed ham product nestled in white bread and lovingly coated with mayonnaise. In other words, it’s spam. But what really irritates me is that it’s not just spam; it’s really crappy spam.

  • When you mass email people you do not know, it’s really preferable to attempt to disguise this fact by, oh let’s say… actually sending the email to my actual address, using my actual name.
  • Angeline does not “just want to say hello,” as she claims in the second sentence; she wants me to follow her on Twitter. Presumably so I can follow her “interesting / informative” content, like uh, trolling for new members.
  • To underscore how completely impersonal and outcome driven this email is, the “if we’re not friends yet, feel free to follow…” line clears that up immediately.

So basically, someone who doesn’t know me from Eve has abused my personal data to spam me with a solicitation to join her (it? them?) on a social network. Despite the social and conversational nature of the network, the communication invitation is completely top-down, and the message being sent here basically boils down to “Follow me, I’m COOL!” I had to double-check this wasn’t a MySpace invite for a minute there.

Seriously, people. It’s called conversational marketing for a reason. It’s called social media for a reason.

No, I Do Not Want to Play Scrabble


I know I’m a cranky, picky bitch. But here’s the thing: while I like networking as much as the next freelancer, I do not like social networks. Bebo is for children, MySpace is the AOL of its era, and LinkedIn is all very nice as far as it goes, but it’s virtually impossible to find anyone I’m not already connected to – by the thousands of email addresses I already gave them.

Facebook in particular, however, is really starting to drive me up the wall. I know it is incredibly 2007 to pull the Oh My God, I Hate Facebook and Am Leaving! drama queen stunt, though, so I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to complain about it instead.

First of all, while it’s nice to get in touch with old friends and colleagues, I want to be able to find you, see what you’re doing, and keep up with the handful of critical changes likely to happen with you in the course of a year: new job, new city, new spouse, new kids. If you want to know what’s up with me, I have a blog. What I do not have is the capacity to conduct the exact same “Hey! Long time no see! What are you up to?” conversation 30 times in a month.

Second of all, I do not want to suck your blood, take your quiz, or play scrabble with you. It’s nothing personal, but I can probably play Scrabble by post in less time than it will take me to kick your ass on Facebook. On a professional level, I am disgusted that Hasboro has put the kybosh on Scrabulous because it’s an increadibly stupid move on their part. On a personal level, however, I will die a happy woman if nobody ever challenges me to play Scrabulous ever again.

And last but not least, I hate to be the one to break this to all of the many Facebook whores out there but: your mama is ugly. Facebook was no beauty queen of a website to start out with, but there was always the hope it would get better. The recent redesign has proven that for the foreseeable future, at least, that’s not the case – it’s still cramped, still frustrating to navigate, and still a glowing example of grody-arsed ad placements.

But of course I’m staying. Mostly so I can log in once every three months to discover all my new friends I’ve never heard of. And then have them ask me what I’m up to.

In the Interests of Full Disclosure

Full Disclosure

Pat Phelan has a post up over at his blog in which people have been discussing boundaries and blogger ethics in terms of full disclosure. This kicked me up the arse to go and do something I’ve been meaning to do since Day 1: add a Disclosures page to my site.

There are some cases that are cut and dried, like the instance Pat is highlighting. If you’re being paid by Flixwagon, using Flixwagon on your site, demoing Flixwagon, and/or writing about Flixwagon in your own space or others, you need to disclose that you have a financial relationship with Flixwagon.

And then it gets muddy. Because by paid, I mean any exchange with a monetary value attached to it. If I got free hosting from Blacknight (which I do, although not for this blog) and wrote about Blacknight and how awesome they are (which I have), I would be ethically obligated to disclose in my post that I get free hosting from Blacknight (which I did, just for the record).

Furthermore, were I interviewed by a journalist about blog hosting and mentioned that I send all my clients to Blacknight, I would also be ethically obligated to disclose to said journalist that I have an existing financial relationship with them in that I get free hosting.

After that, it’s up to the journalist to put that fact in the piece or not, but I think they should. If they didn’t, you better believe I’d be right here in your browser (or RSS reader, as the case may be) disclosing that myself as soon as the article was published.

Why? Because the fact that I am either getting money or getting freebies by its very nature colours my perception of whoever is giving them to me. Tom Raftery hates them, and I know this. I, however, love them – in part because I’ve never had an issue with them, but also in part because they have given me something that makes me happy. I feel special, warm and fuzzy about Blacknight because they give me stuff, and the fact that they give me stuff slants my opinion of them.

Therefore, when a journalist asks me “What is the best blog hosting?” and I say “Blacknight,” this is not based on an survey of the market or even on my experience as a typical customer. My opinion is no longer impartial because I have an extra relationship with them, and it’s one that involves money, goods or services.

And if that’s true of €33 worth of free hosting for a tiny site that isn’t even running, it’s exponentially more true as the numbers and visibility go up. The web is incredibly powerful in forming opinion, and to not reveal a paid relationship when you endorse or evangelise about a company, product or service is an abuse of readers and viewers. It harms – and can potentially destroy – credibility.

Which, before you ever pull a referral, ship a product or sell a service, is the most important thing anyone has online.

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