20 September 2010

The particle physics of proof-reading

particle acceleratorHow does this bloody work then?!

It has fascinated me in a macabre sort of way for as long as I can remember...

The way a piece of text can change as it switches medium or goes 'live'.

We all know this. We have all done it.

You work diligently, carefully, comprehensively on a document on your word processor. When it is finished you hit the print button and wander over to the printer to collect it. As you watch it coming out, you see for the first time THE most glaring typo! (where you mis-spelt your company name, or absent-mindedly described your boss as 'profligate' instead of 'professional').

What is the process that turns the invisible, highly visible, as your work changes medium? It's as if you were moving your document from air to water, where the colours change and everything is magnified?

I'm convinced there are rules at play here that are just as baffling as, and closely linked to, the behaviour of quantum particles. The state of the particle (document) changes if it is being observed. Maybe two versions of your document exist in parallel universes, and only become apparent when the reader inadvertently crosses from one to the other.

That's what just happened to me when I wrote a lengthy and complicated email telling all BGTW members how to update their biogs on our website by the middle of next month. It's been a work under detailed review for a week. This afternoon I finally drew all the last strands together, previewed what the layout looked like and then, as a final check, sent myself a test email. Perfect. Then I sent it to all 278 members.

My first glance at the second version to arrive in my in-tray took in the opening, bold print, line...

"Deadline is 15 October 2011"


OK, I'm now going to power up my small hadron particle accelerator and squirt this blog post through inter-webby thing to your screen. I fully expect the headline to read 'PARTICAL physics' or some such, and will need to re-edit as soon as it has been published!

17 September 2010

The Murky World of Blacklists

child frowning at cameraI've just caught up with this bit of news, which I think did the rounds earlier this week - a new database of troublesome guests notified by subscribing hotels, B&Bs, campsite and other accommodation owners, who, in turn can quickly check for potential trouble-makers before taking a booking.

It's interesting because this is the first time I've seen this sort of blacklist out in the open.

The first "FAQ" on Guestscan's FAQ page says...

Q. Why has no one done this before?

A. While the concept is simple, complying with all the legal aspects is complicated and time consuming. (Guestscan has taken two years to get it right.)

Well... they have done it before. I've heard about schemes like this operated by tour operators, hotels and even PRs, several times over the past couple of decades, but on enquiry they've always turned out to be 'informal sharing of information arrangements' that nobody ever knows anything about!

The reason is in the answer (above), which is accurate. The whole concept is a legal minefield and one that most travel companies and associations have been very reluctant to enter, even though there has always been a real demand for blacklist information. What tour operator, for example, wouldn't want to know that Mr X whose booking he is about to take, is a notorious serial complainer, who will almost certainly lodge a complaint plus claim on return from his holiday?

It looks, on the face of it, that Guestscan has overcome all the legal hurdles. I notice, for example that users have to become 'members' of the Guestscan Association and indemnify the Association against the "consequences" (legal?) of malicious reporting. So I hope it all works.

Oh, and if you are a journo, don't think you are exempt. I well remember a travel PR telling back in the early nineties how she kept and shared a blacklist of journos who behaved badly on press trips or failed to produce any copy.

15 September 2010

Directories - Who do they serve?

Three prize winners hold a cup
A colleague from the Guild, Jane Anderson who runs the excellent 101Honeymoons website, tweeted excitedly this morning: "We've made it to the Good Web Guide".

'Congratulations!' I was thinking (and was about to tweet in reply) as I checked their entry and then began to nose around the GoodWebGuide to see who else was on it and what the criteria are for being accepted.

It turns out of course, cash plays a big part.

It's all here. The criteria are...

  1. The site must be clear in its offering. (I would hope so. Pretty standard for any serious site).
  2. Telephone contact details as well as email contact details must be included. (A good basic requirement. Any website that is obscure about who runs it and from where, or avoids contact, is to be avoided).
  3. The site should fit in with one of their existing channels (eg Travel, Home & Garden, Money & Business, etc).

So.... pretty much any website 'with a pulse' then.

Then comes the real hurdle. Assuming your site meets those stratospherically high standards, you need to pay £150 + VAT per annum for your entry.

It seems the Good Web Guide might be not so much a 'Guide to Good Websites' as a 'Guide to Passable Websites that are willing to pay us for Advertising'.

It's not an unusual business model, but you can set the standards higher.

I've always liked the excellent Alastair Sawday (another ex-guildie) 'Special Places to Stay' directories (printed books), but never felt the same about them after I discovered the properties listed have to pay for their entry (That was a long time back, when I lost my innocence!). Nevertheless Alastair's directories still list what appear to be lovely properties, even if they feel very slightly tarnished by commerce.

These directories are more an 'Exacting Guide to those Special Places to Stay that are willing to pay us for advertising'.

Of course, directories, printed or online, have to earn a living. They can't all be as worthy as Dmoz - the (human volunteer edited) Open Directory Project, in order to gain beatification for their editorial independence, but there is a third way. Mine!

The reason I can be so sniffy about paid-for advertising directories is that my directory (Travel-Lists) IS independent and is designed to serve the site visitors not the companies listed.

The business model is simple.

You get listed if I think your website is good enough for my visitors. I use a range of criteria, starting with the GoodWebGuide's basics, but also taking into account things like trade accreditation, financial bonding, and gut feeling.

Where do my gut feelings and those of the GoodWebGuide's editor(s) part company? Well, there are always some finely balanced judgements. GoodWebGuide have to make theirs knowing that they stand to gain or lose £150. I don't have that burden.

Jane's 101Honeymoons (and its sister site, 101Holidays) is listed in my directory for free, as are the vast majority of sites. The only people who pay anything are those who can't wait for me to find them and pay a 'fast-track' review fee of £12.50.

I take that £12.50 regardless of whether I decide to list them or not. So there's no commercial pressure on me. I can decide freely if my visitors would benefit from knowing about this site, or not.

Furthermore, if you pay me £12.50 for a review and get in (most do. I reject only a handful each year. People tend not to spend the money if they suspect they may not get in) that's it - it is a once only payment.

At midnight on 14 Sept 2011 standards at 101Honeymoons will slip so badly that it will become a website that is no longer worthy of your attention... according to The GoodWebGuide. A situation that can be remedied if another 150 quid is handed over.

In my directory, you are listed as long as you do what you do - IE forever. If you stop doing it, I will kick you out. If you start doing other things, I may add you to other lists. You are in, as often and as long as you benefit my visitors. You are my play thing (muhahaha) and I write your description, not you. That is because it is not advertising and you are not paying for it.

At the bottom of Jane's 101Honeymoons site there are a number of clickable logos.

As recommended by: The Sunday Times | BBC World | Daily Mail | TheGoodWebGuide.co.uk

If I were Jane I would be wondering if the last is of any value to me or my visitors. (I hope the link is not a contractual requirement)

Ooops - Normal Service will resume


I knew I was long overdue for a new blog post, but I had no idea how overdue!

Sorry! Normal service resuming soon.