Category Archives: Content

The art of copyright

Last week an American jury decided that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had breached copyright with their song Blurred Lines, by copying Marvin Gaye’s song Got To Give It Up. The official reasons were “for similarities based on inspiration and not replication” which sets a very worrying precedent.

The case was brought by the Marvin Gaye Estate,  and has been led by a group of lawyers who are reportedly pursuing a number of cases along similar lines. In this case it has resulted in the artists of the biggest selling song of 2013 having to pay in excess of £5million in compensation to the Marvin Gaye estate. After they’d won the case, Nona Gaye gave a teary statement where she said she finally felt free of the hold that Thicke and Williams held over them. It seems pretty heavy for someone who was only eight years old when her father’s song was released. I wonder whether she would have been so bothered if the court case had been against a small emerging artists and wasn’t worth over £5million to her!

Skepticism aside, the main issue here is that someone has lost a copyright battle not because they have replicated someone else’s work, but because they has been judged to have had similar inspiration. So they have lost not because they have copied Marvin Gaye’s work, but because they have had similar inspiration. In a world of art, where it is impossible to be completely original – there will always be similar works out there – the ramifications are huge. Does it mean that a composer who has never even heard another track before, but unwittingly produces something with similarities, has breached copyright? Similarly, if I was to be inspired by the sun setting over London and wrote a song about it, would I be breaching copyright for Waterloo Sunset based on inspiration? Ok, these examples are a bit silly, but the principle stands and now there is a legal precedent for any lawyer to see an opportunity for a quick buck.

This week on BBC Radio 4 they have been discussing the possibility that one of J.S. Bach’s Cello concertos might have been written by his wife, rather than him. The only suggestion of this is the interpretation by one man of the note scribbled on one of the manuscripts which says ‘written out by’ his wife. Anyone who knows about music will know this is referring to her work copying the original music out onto sheet, but it is a convenient opportunity for another conspiracy theory. Any competent cello player will attest to the consistency in style of the suite, which almost certainly supports that Bach himself wrote the piece. Why do I raise this? Well the argument is not dissimilar. The idea that one person could write something that was ascribed to another is not only plausible, it happens all the time. But similarly it is also possible for someone to compose something that is very similar, or in places the same, to another piece without ever having been exposed to the other piece.

The joy of the arts is that it is creative. It is inspiring to see and listen to and is inspired by a variety of things. When you start to apply limitations, such as the idea that inspiration itself can lead to copyright, then this will only serve to stifle that creativity. Copyright exists for very good reasons. It prevents people copying work and claiming it as there own – replication. But the idea that you could claim someone has copied your work because they were inspired by the same thing is ludicrous. It serves only the claimant and no one else.

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I’m a celebrity, let’s exploit a penguin!

It’s Christmas season again. You can tell this not by the fact that advent has begun, which it hasn’t yet, but because every major retailer in the country has released their Christmas advert. The reality TV shows are also everywhere, counting down to a Christmas finale of no doubt epic proportions, where an idiotic Irishman will declare that someone who is tone deaf is the greatest singer since Arion, two little Geordie’s will crown a non-celebrity king or queen of the five star jungle and some moody blokes in black ties will say that a dance that none of us have heard of was sequin-tastic.

And whilst I am trying to control my undoubted excitement and hoping that Santa Claus doesn’t fall out of his sleigh, I will change the channel in the hope of finding something more educational for my daughters to watch. My hope will be to find something that is more stimulating than the mind-numbing anti-entertainment that now makes up weekend prime time programming. Of course my daughters won’t care, they will only have eyes for the iPads, browsing for the toys we haven’t bought them for Christmas and then not talking to us for a week because we clearly don’t love them.

Every year is the same. Whilst the rational people use advent as the earliest opportunity to even start thinking about Christmas, the rest of the world starts to get ready just after Halloween. This is the reason I can now read my book at night by the light of my neighbour’s Christmas lights, which could also double as the approach lights for Heathrow. I can hear the whirring of the electrical meter from down the street. But on the plus side Southern Electric shares are going up in price by the hour. We’ve got to get out of this recession somehow. I’m fairly sure though that he has paid for the lights with a Wonga loan!

Don’t get me wrong, I really like Christmas, I like to ‘do’ Christmas and have a merry old time. I like my children to think Christmas is magical and all that, because those memories will stay with them forever. But what I don’t like is that it seems to last for three months now, it is shoved down our throats from all angles and that underneath all this false merriment everyone is basically miserable and moans about everything.

Take TV adverts. John Lewis has for years now been producing high end adverts especially for Christmas. It has become a spectacle that people wait for with baited breath. And on the day the advert appears social media goes mad for it. Last year’s was a touching animation about a bear, accompanied by a mediocre Lily Allen cover of a well loved Keane song. The year before was an equally heart wrenching tale of a snow man and snow woman. The nation universally shed a tear for a wonderful piece of storytelling. This year’s is no different. Monty the Penguin is a visual masterpiece that cost them £1 million to produce and tells the lovely story of a boy’s lonely Penguin in desperate need of more penguin companionship.

But this year John Lewis doesn’t have the monopoly, almost every major brand has cottoned on to the ‘Christmas Epic Advert’. They want a piece of the action and so the marketing boffins have been scratching their heads since Easter to work out what story they can tell that’ll get us all crying. No doubt they’ve been out experimenting, taking candy from babies and poking dogs with sticks to see what is most touching. Well maybe not, but it would seem that Sainsburys probably should have done that, as they wouldn’t have got as much backlash as their Christmas advert seems to have stirred up.

This year, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, they have produced an advert that dramatizes the legendary Christmas Truce that took place in 1914. Their treatment is a sensitive, understated and yet very thought provoking tale of two soldiers, one German and one British, who venture out into no mans land and meet in the middle to offer seasons greetings. A football match ensues and there is much merriment, until the idyllic scene is shattered by distant gun fire. The advert ends with the German having a blue wrapped chocolate bar from the Brit, and the Brit a biscuit from the German. But barely had the advert finished than social media was going mad with complaints of outrage. How dare Sainsburys exploit a conflict where millions died in order to make profit? OFCOM say they have received hundreds of complaints about the advert.

So let’s put this into context for a moment. Sainsburys has worked with the Royal British Legion for over 20 years, and made this advert in conjunction with them. Bearing in mind the significance of the anniversary on which this has been released, it is unlikely this wasn’t discussed in some detail on more than one occasion over the last year or so. During that period of planning, which would have been quite in depth for a production of this level, one presumes that some of the members of that organisation, who are uniquely qualified to have a view on such things, might have mentioned if they thought this advert was in bad taste. Presumably no one did because Sainsburys went ahead with it and have also released additional footage about the making of the film as well.

And yet they are apparently exploiting the memory of the war. And yet funnily enough I don’t remember seeing British soldiers strolling across no mans land with hands full of supermarket products. Or the hun coming in the other direction armed to the teeth with toiletries and wearing orange overalls. One assumes the same people who are throwing these accusations around on social media were quite happily chuckling away when they were watching Blackadder, or taking their photos of the poppy display at the Tower of London, which has no doubt enjoyed increased revenues as a result. Exploitation? No. The only product Sainsburys actually displays in its advert is a retro styled chocolate bar in a blue wrapper and, whilst plastering the advert with “Live Well for Less”, their motto, would have been a gigantic an error of judgement, all I remember is simple logo on black of equal weighting to that of the Royal British Legion. Those who are mortally offended that they are peddling their retro chocolate bar in this manner may like to know that the proceeds of the sales of those particular bars are going to the Royal British Legion as well and not into the pockets of Sainsburys executives. No wonder everyone is so annoyed, they really do have a nerve don’t they? How dare they donate money to a veterans charity at Christmas!

The problem is that at Christmas these sorts of stories come out because this is the time of year when we start to take stock of what we have. Lets get one thing straight and do away with the naivety here, all adverts are exploitative. They are designed specifically to make you do something that you would otherwise probably not consider doing, that is the point. This is the reason that in Sweden advertisers are banned from showing adverts during childrens programming. So what is worse, emotionally manipulating someone year on year and dressing it up as a sweet little story about penguins, or showing a well put together and rather touching dedication to those brave men and women 100 years ago, whilst raising money for that charity? If that is exploitation then exploit away because those charities need all the help they can get.

And for those who feel the need to sling accusations at the morally corrupt big wigs at these companies, I ask you to do this. Drag yourself off the crumb encrusted sofa for more than a few seconds, block out the sounds of the morally extinct, obese wastes of oxygen on I’m An X Factor Get Me Dancing and look a little deeper at what is going on. The reason you consider this exploitative is because you feel the need to defend something that you only have a passing attachment to, so that you can take a moral high ground. Your complaint is that a company has produced something for profit, using imagery of something abhorrent. But what they actually did was show a moment of compassion that highlights an extremely important and under discussed moral issue of the war. That both sides were human. They did this as a dedication to those who fought, on the 100th anniversary of a war that we all pledge we will never forget. And they did it to sell the only product they actually feature, for which the proceeds go to help a military charity. Of course they are trying to make profits but so are all businesses. I’m sure if this had been produced as a short drama you’d all love it, but that production company didn’t do it for free either! Or of course you could just sit back on the sofa and smile at the little boy playing with the toy penguins and forget all that morally important stuff. Now where are my ten million watt Christmas lights, I want to be seen from space!

Who is Richard Brady?

We are all familiar with the scam emails from Nigerian Prince’s needing bank accounts to transfer their millions into, or lost friends stuck abroad and in desperate need of some cash. It has become part of the British comedy culture, it is in fact somewhat a cliche now. I actually find myself reading some of these and getting quite a lot of enjoyment out of them. After all, you would have to be borderline amoebic to be taken in by these, quite frankly more ludicrous than fiction, yarns.

The traditional way of receiving these has been by email and this has been happening for many many years. In more recent times similar SMS schemes have popped up; the “You’re entitled to compensation for your recent accident” one has probably been received by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people. If that many accidents had actually occurred then the country would just be one big pile of wrecked cars!

Somewhat inevitably I suppose, this scam mentality has started to invade social media. The US based MTV show ‘Catfish’ features the more personal scams, where people mislead others by pretending to be someone they are not, for various personal motivations. On Twitter it is also not uncommon to start being followed by fake profiles, who then post ads to you. But one network that until recently seemed relatively safe from this is the business network LinkedIn. Which leads me to ask the question “Who is Richard Brady?”

LinkedInFraud

When I received a connection request from Richard Brady, who apparently works for Orabank (who have a website – I did a quick check), I immediately thought this seems a bit fishy, but thought I would let it play out. So having done some quick looking around to check Orabank did, on the face of it, seem vaguely real and having checked Richard Brady’s profile to see it had a plausible background, I accepted the request. After all, in my line of work you don’t turn down a connection as it may lead to a project.

Of course, and predictably, Richard Brady’s sickeningly goofy face popped into my LinkedIn inbox within 24 hours, accompanied by the above message. Now this does make a good read. It is a story of a deceit, larceny, conspiracy to defraud a presumably grieving family, money laundering and cover ups. Mr Richard Brady of Orabank does seem to be quite the operator. Is he friends with James Bond or Jack Bauer as well? Are they chasing him?

So what does this actually mean? Well for a start it means that these fraudsters are invading networking and social media sites, and not just the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, the professional sites like LinkedIn as well. Secondly, it means that someone must be falling for these scams, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. So who is that stupid and using LinkedIn? I certainly don’t want to connect with them. Thirdly, and possibly the most concerning thing, is that this profile, claiming to be a presumably fictitious ‘Richard Brady’ is using someone’s photograph to accompany an openly illegal activity.

And at the end of the day that is the most concerning thing here surely? These stories are laughable at best. They are barely worthy of a TV sitcom script, and yet someone somewhere is taking the time to construct these elaborate hoaxes, piecing together profiles with real photographs of goodness knows who. At the end of the day this photograph of Richard Brady may go viral, as ‘the face of the fraudster’. But somewhere a real person has that face, and that person is probably not Richard Brady the man of mystery, intrigue and larceny. Let’s hope the family of Mr Philip Becks (deceased – may god rest his soul) don’t go searching for him!

The real lesson here is that if you put yourself online then there is every possibility that your details and photos may well be used by someone else in their deceptions. Coming back to Catfish, the US show, people are doing this more and more, just so they can have a barrier of protection and anonymity when engaging online. And in practically every case they are using other people’s photographs, stolen from profiles online. This is the risk of putting yourself online. Do you ever really know who you are talking to unless you actually see them? We should all ask ourselves ‘is this person really who they say they are?’ … or in other words, ‘Who is Richard Brady?’

Shooting the messenger – a right to forget the point!

An EU court has today backed the right for people to request that Google must amend some search results, in what is becoming known as the “right to be forgotten”. This story, reported on the BBC News website, raises some interesting questions and also possible paves the way for a world wide web police, for which Google must logically be placed.

But first lets look at the court case, which presents a few problems and, much like the “cookie law”, has got quite a few people excited despite having hold of the wrong end of a very large stick. For one, the EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, said in a post on Facebook that it is a “clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans”. I can’t help but feel she has massively missed the point here. Google themselves make the salient point; They do not control data, they only offer links to information freely available on the internet.

What Viviane is failing to see is that this ruling doesn’t solve any problem at all. If people want misleading, inaccurate or otherwise unfair information about themselves to be removed from the internet then asking Google to remove it from search results doesn’t remove it from the internet, it merely stops it being shown in Google. The information itself is still out there as a source for people to find. And you might argue that if it isn’t shown in the most popular search engine (and indeed website) in the world then that solves the problem, but if you believe that you’re probably a bit short sighted. Why? Well quite simply because the online world is changing.

An example of this change is this article, which talks about how the younger generation are consuming the internet through apps rather than browsers. This is significant because the web is moving towards an information warehouse rather than website based approach, where your app of choice will be used to retrieve this information. If this is indeed where the net ends up then Google will no longer be the majority search engine, and therefore the information that Google has obediently hidden will be found again. Not to mention that if the actual content is not removed, it only takes a couple of people to find it and share it and then it is all over the net.

So, what is this ruling actually doing? Well it is shooting the messenger for the ‘crimes’ of others. Google is suffering from being the biggest name in the web. It suits the cause of the advocates, politicians and legal personnel to aim the gun directly at a big name rather than this court case disappearing into obscurity once the actual offending website is dealt with. More to the point, like the cookie law, it will get a lot of normal people who don’t 100% understand how the web actually works riled up and support some piece of law being passed that doesn’t actually solve the problem, just covers it with a plaster for a while.

But there is something else going on here as well, something which many people have seen coming for a while. In placing the responsibility with Google (and presumably other search engines, although none have currently been mentioned) to manage and control this content they have now effectively asked them to start policing the internet. As there are vagaries around exactly when a person can validly ask for content to be removed, there will need to be someone making judgements on what is and isn’t allowed and Google are best placed to do this. They have the biggest reach, the widest data access and the best understanding of content monitoring and assessment. Another perceived advantage is that Google are agnostic of governments and institutions, meaning they are well placed to make impartial judgements (in theory).

Whether or not Google does end up being this web police or not, this court case is a line in the sand. To date the internet is largely uncontrolled and almost anything can be uploaded. But this court case has moved a step closer to a situation where either proactively or retrospectively content is going to be monitored and potentially restricted or even removed. The age of the free internet, the ultimate safe harbour of freedom of speech, may well be coming to an end. Whether this is a good or bad thing however, is a whole different question.

In the meantime, if you see something about yourself online that you don’t think should be there, don’t ask Google to remove it, ask the actual website. That will be much more effective in actually removing the content.

App-lying a digital strategy

Like many people, I’m a self confessed shark geek, particularly Great White sharks. They are a passion of mine, be it watching the hilarious spoof films like Sharknado, Double Headed Shark Attack and Shark Swarm (yes, these are all real films!), following the shark week documentaries that come around annually and show ever more detailed insights into the life of these misunderstood animals, or admiring some of the amazing photography of Great White sharks clearing the water off seal island in South Africa. One of the things all shark lovers are aware of is the stigma they have, particularly due to the adverse media coverage after shark attacks on people or because of films like Jaws – a masterpiece but possibly the worst thing to have happened for the reputations of sharks world wide.

But in recent years the general perception of these animals has begun to change, largely due to the work of many organisations, scientists and television program makers who are determined to show the real side to sharks. This is particularly important in the light of the current threat to many species of shark due to over fishing and of course the barbaric shark fin market. One particular organisation I follow is Ocearch, who have a great website that allows you to track sharks from around the world, to see their movements and all sorts of great information about them. Shark geek heaven!

But despite this, a lot of the time I tend to find that when I start to get animated about sharks most people don’t really know what I am on about. Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise when my wife and I were in Ireland the other day seeing some friends of ours that when the subject of sharks came up, our friends immediately started to talking about Lydia without any sort of prompt.

For those of you who aren’t up with the latest shark news, Lydia is a fairly large Great White shark who in February had been making her way across the Atlantic in the direction of the UK. As you can imagine, for layman shark geeks like myself the potential of a Great White coming to UK waters was rather exciting, but it also caused a bit of a stir in the scientific community as questions began to be asked about why the shark would be going so far ‘off course’.

The fact that two relatively non-shark geek people knew about Lydia was both a surprise and an encouragement for me. It shows that people are beginning to learn more about these fantastic creatures and rely less on the rather inaccurate reputations they have. It prompted me to look closer at this and particularly Ocearch, who are doing a huge amount to allow this discovery for normal people.

One of the things Ocearch do is that they bring their activities into the social world in a great way. The Lydia activity is, of course, a godsend in terms of getting the general public excited, but what Ocearch do is so much more important than that. For a start Ocearch have a very active Twitter and Facebook community. Their tracking of sharks of perfect content for regularly updates and the continuously changing situation means that users have a reason to check back a lot. They also have a YouTube and Instagram presence, which is prefect for sharing the incredible footage and shots that they get on their voyages, and a regular blog scene to offer opinion about the work they are doing.

Recently they also launched the Ocearch Shark Tracker app, enabling me to see where Lydia and a whole host of other sharks are, whenever I have a minute spare. It becomes addictive I can tell you.

Ocearch Shark Tracker App

 

Now I’m not going to review the app specifically in this post. Yes, like most new apps there are things that could be improved, and no doubt will be, as is true of the website. Or indeed any website. What I am going to do though is to look at what they have achieved, why that is important and what we can all learn from them.

Ocearch is a non-profit organisation who are undertaking research on sharks and other apex predators. They make all their research available open source to anyone who wants it, with the view that this is the most effective way to help understand these animals. But what they are doing with their content is possibly more important because they are getting the public involved and allowing them to feel a part of it. And this is what people can learn from what Ocearch are doing. Getting funding for this sort of thing is hard enough, so getting public interest up is a great way to help. Ocearch have managed to not only lift the public interest but at the same time turn it into a kind of entertainment and a great educational tool at the same time.

The reason why this is working so well is that Ocearch have engaged with social media in a faultless manner. They have all of the key ingredients to be successful; regular and interesting content, suitable content for each stream, they engage with their users and they offer something that is not very available anywhere else. It is compelling reading and watching and it brings enthusiasts like myself together in one place. There is a lot that other scientific institutions could learn from the great PR and marketing that is being done here.

So what is my point? Having a digital strategy, no matter what your business is, is incredibly important. Whether we like it or not the world is digital now and if your business isn’t their then you will be being left behind. This is true for almost all organisations, but for non-profit organisations, charities and foundations this is especially true as budgets are small. But unlike businesses, these other organisations will have a regular stream of compelling, interesting and engaging content at their heart. Ocearch have made and continue to make the most of what they have, which is no doubt not done on a shoe string, in order to get the maximum impact. Their digital presence is consistent and draws you in but more importantly it means that they get a large amount of coverage of the work they are doing…and that is the most important thing.

Intelligent use of digital means that your message can be spread far and wide. It would be great if other organisations could do the same as Ocearch, as this is the best way to educate the world and hopefully to get more support for the great work that organisations like this are doing.

Freed from the device vice

One of the great things about the digital world we now live in is that there are literally thousands of devices out there for us to choose from. Whether it be for entertainment (playing games through to consuming media), communicating or organizing (or any blend of the above) there is a plethora of devices out there that can help. But one of the major drawbacks of the digital digital world we now live in is that there are literally thousands of devices out there for us to choose from.

No, you haven’t just entered groundhog day…the availability of a wide range of devices is great. It means we, as consumers, can select the one we feel is right for us. We don’t have to be either a Windows loyalist or otherwise an Apple advocate. There are so many makers of both hardware and software that we can mix and match to our hearts content. This is true for phones, tablets, TVs, games consoles, I could go on and on. But the problem with the variety is that often when we buy in to a specific model we then exclude ourselves from some of the benefits of the makers we didn’t choose.

Let me give you an example. The world and its oyster have recently gone crazy for the online broadcast sensation Breaking Bad, which is now exclusively available on Netflix. I, on the other hand, am a subscriber of Love Film. Both Love Film and Netflix provide largely the same service, except that I would now have to subscribe to Netflix just to get Breaking Bad…and I want to get Breaking Bad because everyone is talking about it and saying it is the greatest TV show ever made (caveat: I haven’t seen it so it may not be the greatest TV show ever made!). My choice to consume on demand content through Love Film excludes me from accessing Breaking Bad unless I subscribe to Netflix. I am reluctant to do this as I would either have to switch or subscribe to both and I happen to think that Love Film through my Smart TV is a good service.

It is therefore great news that Sony have announced this week that they are soon to make some of their Playstation console games available to play without having the console (i.e. through a smart TV, other conosle, mobile device) by streaming it over the web. Why is the significant? Because it is the first time a major console company has decided to decouple their entertainment product from their hardware. Previously, if you wanted to play Playstation games you would have to own a Playstation, and games producers would have to produce versions of games for each console.

The line is now drawn in the sand. Is this the first step towards content, applications and devices being completely agnostic? I would like to think so, although I am under no illusions that there is a long way to go before we get to that point. But the reality is that users want to be able to consume everything but on their own terms. I am an iPhone user and I would like to be able to access the same functionality as people on other devices but with the interface of the Apple device. Similarly, I would like to be able to play games from various consoles without having to have a living room full of different pieces of hardware. The age when you have to choose a piece of hardware and live with the limitations that imposes (or accept that you will also have to spend more to get other devices as well) is coming to an end. Companies are beginning to realize that how a user consumes content (channel) and the actual content they are consuming does not need to be linked. A user should have the choice about how they consume content and not be limited. Companies in turn need to realize that their content should be available to the widest group of people possible if they wish to capitalize and the best way to do that is to make it device agnostic…even if they have a shiny new device that they want you to own as well.

The last letter in communication…

As the Christmas season is upon us an interesting phenomenon takes grip upon most of us. We all start posting things. Throughout the entirety of the year we almost all email, phone or instant message. I can’t remember the last time I actually wrote a letter, put a stamp on it and posted it (excluding birthday cards). The only letters we get through our door are bills, and even they are online now…and yet December hits us and we all rush out to buy seasonally festooned cards. We then remortgage our house in order to afford the stamps, get a bad back from leaning over the table and hand cramp from writing out 8 million cards by hand, and then spend 20 minutes trying to make the massive wodge of envelopes fit into the already overflowing post box. But why?

Perhaps it is the tangible nature of Christmas cards that drives us to do it. Certainly this is the last stand of the postal form, which otherwise suffers along throughout the year held up by the corporate market. But will it last much longer and what will replace it? My guess is that it can’t go on much longer. The reality is that is becoming prohibitively expensive to post things and in the fast moving world that we live in we simply don’t want to make time for it either.

Take my household. Christmas cards was both a ritual and a chore in the past. You spend ages making a list of the people you should send them to. “Should we send one to Johnny, they didn’t send us one last year?” “What about Mary, she did send us one last year but we haven’t actually spoken to them this millennium”. But last year was the final straw for us. Having written out the hundred or so cards we were going to send we trundled down to the supermarket to buy stamps. Typically it had to be first class if we were going to get them all delivered by Christmas…the bill? Well over £50. It was completely unpalatable. So last year we drew a line. We emailed everyone with a Christmas message of cheer and explained that it was simply too expensive to post them all cards this year and that we apologized. After all, if it is a choice between your Christmas dinner or buying stamps then quite frankly I like food too much…besides, no one seemed all that bothered.

So the reality is that for reasons of cost and laziness posting letters and cards is fast becoming a thing of the past. And you can’t really blame the postal service too much for this. It is a downward spiral – the costs increase because less people use the service, so less people use the service because the costs increase. But what will replace it? Well at the moment the electronic equivalent of the letter is the email and that is certainly how a lot of our modern communication in the corporate world is done. The problem with that is that you can’t put an email on your mantle piece…it doesn’t have the same decorative flair. In terms of Christmas it simple doesn’t cut the mustard. An idea I came up with a while ago is an electronic Christmas card that you could put on the mantle piece that would receive and automatically display e-Christmas cards. You simply send your e-card to your friend and the frame receives it and cycles through them. A Christmas decoration and card all in one. There is a business idea there I think!

But the latest gossip suggests that even emails are on the way out, to be replaced by instant messaging. Will this be the case? In the long run very possibly. We already use skype (other instant messaging services are available) in the business world a lot and our social communication is more tending towards instant messaging or ‘posts’ on walls than emails. But I don’t think the email is done just yet.

They had someone talking on the radio the other day. His argument was the creation of a letter involves sitting down and planning, thinking through and taking your time over a letter which simply doesn’t happen in email or instant messaging. He said this is why letter writing is unique. My problem with this supposition is that it is simple incorrect when it comes to email. Certainly when I compose emails for work I spend quite a lot of time over some of them, making sure that the tone is write, the language is write, the flow of the message is constructed in the correct way. My problem with his theory is that he clearly had a bias towards non-electronic formats and his basis for this seemed to be that if you sit at a desk to write something with a pen and paper then it automatically has more thought than anything online. That is simply naive.

The reality of the situation is that we don’t write letters anymore because it isn’t as convenient as electronic messaging. We require up to the minute communication ability these days and from any location, something which letters do not offer us. Emails are the new letter, but will they be replaced by instant messaging? For some types of communication I think it will. The back and forth conversation type interactions will be instant, as long as the people are available. But for something that needs to be ‘on the record’ – lets say a brief for a project or an acceptance of a quote – these will remain on email for the foreseeable future. Email enables us to keep the formality that business requires, to lay out succinct arguments and points and to apply a level of pre-planned structure that instant messaging simply doesn’t offer. Instant messaging is a flow of consciousness, mimicking a conversation. Emails often require thought and then response rather than free flowing replies. For that reason alone the future of the email (or email type) communication will endure.

So what of our dear old letter? What will become of it? I think that the most likely cause of the demise will be the cost to deliver it. We will get to a point where national postal services are simply not an affordable prospect for businesses to offer. Despite their lovely, tangible nature the future of letters will be in hand delivery. They will become a quaint thing of the pats; a romantic notion withheld for the most of special occasions or for the highest impact. I, for one, will miss them…I will miss the experience of receiving and opening a letter… but I won’t miss the hand ache that now comes with writing them!