All posts by Adam

The new Conservative government wants to exclude armed forces abroad from Human Rights laws

The new Conservative government, with Michael Gove as Justice Secretary, plans to exclude British Armed Forces personal overseas from the reach of human rights cases, in order to stop such cases “undermin[ing] their ability to do their job and keep us safe”.

A document published in October 2014 by then-Justice Secretary Chris Grayling lays out the “case for change” and explains that the Conservative plan would also “limit the use of human rights laws to the most serious cases”.

Both of these worryingly-phrased objectives are buried in the final page of the document, and their ambiguity is huge cause for concern to those who fear that the notion of a “Bill of Rights” is a mechanism to dilute existing human rights legislation and make it easier for the state to infringe upon those rights where it wants to.

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A Full List of Oldham Athletic Sponsors

Oldham Athletic are reported to be informing the club’s sponsors that they have agreed personal terms with convicted rapist Ched Evans.

For informational purposes, here is a list of Oldham Athletic’s sponsors, with contact information where it was readily available:

If you have additional sponsors not featured on this list, please get in touch and I’ll add them.

Revolution 96.2

http://www.therevolution962.com/

Office: 0161 621 6500

http://www.twitter.com/rev962

Zen Office – have announced they will cut ties if Evans signs

http://www.zenoffice.com/

enquiries@zenoffice.com

T: 0845 123 2980

Pentagon Vauxhall

0161 621 2720

http://www.pentagon-vauxhall.co.uk/

SportsDirect

http://www.sportsdirect.com/

Remedian IT Solutions

http://www.remedian.co.uk/

info@remedian.co.uk

Tel.: 0845 643 0147

Tel.: 0330 6600 281

Safeguard Group

http://www.safeguard.uk.com/

enquiries@safeguard.uk.com

0161 626 2202

Scottish independence is about resisting the flow of power away from ordinary people

On its surface, the Scottish independence referendum appears a shining beacon of modern democracy. It is a peacefully conducted campaign for separation, lying in stark contrast to the many ongoing disputes around the globe that have similar stated goals but witness violence in the absence of a democratic process. Whatever angle we take on the use of democracy as a cultural, neocolonialist export, it is a sure-fire privilege that we live in a society where ballot papers are preferred to bloodshed.

There is, however, something insidious in the tone of voice when a politician tells us this same thing. There is always a hint of danger when the rich and powerful assert the fairness of the process that made them rich and powerful. It reaffirms the validity of their place in the upper echelons of society, and whispers: “Be grateful that we still haven’t taken it away!”

Celebrating the democratic purity of this referendum, though, is a more manipulative move than most, because it relies on people’s false assumption that a process is fair if the most obvious and visible components of that process are fair. We are taught to believe that an unjust government either denies its people their right to vote, or rigs the results when they do come in. Democracy by numbers tells us that we are free as long as certain basic criteria are fulfilled. It begs us not to look closer.

The #PatronisingBTLady advert commissioned by the No campaign brazenly held ignorance aloft as a reason to vote no. It put forth the argument that politics is hard and complicated and voting for the status quo was the safer option. It bluntly implied that kids can’t be into politics and that talking about political issues makes a person dull and uninteresting. The plea to stick with the status quo has echoed through the hallways of bought-and-sold newspapers and big businesses with big business interests. The right-wing UK press is packed with claims that the Yes campaign has run on intimidation – willfully ignoring the No campaign’s lazy scaremongering. Do you really want things to change? they seem to ask. Change is scary.

Change is scary for the politicians in Westminster. This referendum was granted to the Scottish people because nobody in the UK Parliament believed it would turn out as close as it has. As soon as it did, the knives came out. When Alex Salmond won the second debate against Alistair Darling, the political classes began rolling out every dirty rhetorical trick in the book, pushing scare story after scare story through a media circus that is half owned, half indoctrinated. The Guardian’s editorial line on the issue said that the Scots should give the union “another chance”. One wonders how many times you have to be let down before you finally decide it’s okay to hit back.

Independence-Map

The distinction between the two campaigns could not be more stark. Where the Yes campaign have run an emotive, ideological and at times naive message, the No campaign has been detached, cynical and ruthless. The last-ditch bribe of “more powers, we promise, you guys, we swear” is derisory in both its lateness and its vagueness. It was the action of a government that treats the public like shit to whatever extent they can while still getting what they, themselves, want. “We’ll listen this time,” they say, while deliberately avoiding the detail that they never ever listen until their own reputations or interests are on the line. The Scottish people are fed up of being lied to and fed up of being treated with this derision. The difference is that they can see a light at the end of the UK’s grim political tunnel.

There have been great arguments on both side of the debate in this referendum campaign, and to me it feels right that it will be a close-run affair when the numbers come in on Friday morning. Not every reason to vote No boils down to being scared, and not every reason to vote Yes boils down to being overcome by emotion. I hope the stories of Scottish families being torn apart by the argument are exaggerated; I hope the country stays as energised as it has been for these last few months.

But mostly, I hope that they prove a point.

Very little affects David Cameron. He has led his government through racist immigration policies and devastating welfare budget cuts, and I’m sure he still sleeps fine at night – perhaps even better than he did when he wasn’t in power. But if Scottish independence becomes a reality, it will be the first legitimate bloody nose that the comfortable, sticky establishment of this country has collectively suffered for a very long time. It might finally warn them that the contempt with which they treat the British public cannot necessarily be disguised with such an arrogant impression of giving a fuck. I hope that Scotland vote Yes so that I get to see the look on David Cameron’s face. And if Scotland vote No, I pray that the passionate spark that has been on show during the referendum campaign lights a fuse that Westminster can’t just ignore until it suits them.

Awkward Cueing

Ronnie O’Sullivan is the greatest snooker player the world has ever seen. This is not a disputable statement, however many times the sport’s leading voices say he needs to surpass Milestone X to prove it. When he’s playing well, he makes shots that leave Stephen Hendry speechless, and when he hasn’t played for a full year, he’s still capable of coming straight into the gruelling World Championships and winning it at a veritable canter.

What annoys snooker’s punditry team about O’Sullivan, though, is that he isn’t the greatest “snooker player” ever, in the sense that he doesn’t provide the consistent, aspirational hook that Tiger Woods did for golf or Manchester United did, under Alex Ferguson, for football. He is a mercurial, volatile figure, seemingly at odds with the often strangled atmosphere of a snooker arena; in short, if there is an antithesis to snooker, it often appears to be its most brilliant player himself.

O’Sullivan’s struggles with depression, drugs, and apathy towards the sport he dominates have often resulted in an ugly concoction of pity and jealousy from those within the sport’s archaic commentary boxes, and at times during the peak of his difficulties, there was an unspoken (and, sometimes, spoken) suggestion that he should suck it up and get on with being great at sport. Needless to say, the people who translucently harbored this view cared more deeply for the prosperity of the game than the well-being of Ronnie O’Sullivan, even if it was often dressed up in sympathy’s clothing.

In 2014, it appears as though the storm has settled. Two back-to-back World Championships have likely sated even the perfectionist mind of Ronnie O’Sullivan, and a third looks likely this weekend. But it’s a disservice to isolate his achievements in the sport as a product of sporting effort, because for all the many hours on a practice table, O’Sullivan has always attracted justified labels of ‘genius’ and ‘gifted’. It can be no coincidence that his improved temperament around the table and circuit has come with a more settled mentality away from the baize. What this says about sport is perhaps obvious but clearly bears repeating; there’s no such thing as sportspeople, just people who play sport.

Snooker is as mechanical a sport as they come, in truth – a game whose occasional moments of release (delight, humour, anger) are the necessary antidote to an almost-ceaseless quietness and frustration. The crowd hold their breath, the players shake hands every forty seconds, and the history of the game weighs on the shoulders of its image greatly. Is it really such a surprise that the enigmatic O’Sullivan, with his indifference and flair, has provided much-needed respite from the suffocation of a field where even the occasional smile has you labelled a “character”?

What makes O’Sullivan so interesting is that he betrays the old notion that successful sporting figures achieve what they do out of absolute commitment to their sport at the expense of every other aspect of their lives. During his year out, he worked on a farm, a not-very-opaque signal that he maybe perceives his talent as an odd thing to reward. He shows an interest in Buddhism, despite denying a commitment to any religion. These are the ways that O’Sullivan releases the tension that the sport he loves builds up in him – sometimes big, sometimes small, but never with the damaging sort of privacy that leads us to believe sportspeople are a different species to the rest of us – mood swings, tough breaks and all.

Shut Up About Keywords

Forgive the rudeness, but I’m at my wit’s end.

Stop talking about keywords. They don’t matter.

Well, that’s not strictly true. They matter in some ways. They matter from a research perspective, still; if you’re growing your business abroad, for example, you might be able to gauge priorities from search volumes. You can still – for now, at least – find out what people are actually searching for, which is certainly a valuable asset (remember when we had to, like, ask people?!) But that’s about it. If you’re still clinging onto keywords as the crux of your SEO strategy, here’s why you need to stop:

Google Understands Language

Seriously. I work for a translation agency, so I know that Google Translate has a long way to go before it competes with real people, but I would argue that Google’s understanding of linguistics and word usage is probably the most sophisticated of any non-biological entity in the world. It certainly understands synonyms. But it also understands relevance, and intent, and pragmatics.

Quick, put the keyword on the page three times! Shoehorn it in! Stick it in a thesaurus and get two exact synonyms in there too!

No.

Write your page’s content for real people with a background knowledge of your keyword. Get it in there somewhere, if it sounds natural. If it doesn’t sound natural, change it a bit. It’d be cool if it goes in the title. Doesn’t go in the title? Get a word in there! Two, if you can! But treat it like a marketing exercise with a keyword consideration; not a keyword exercise with a marketing aspect.

See, you might just be able to cling onto this cliff right now, but it’s eroding. In a year’s time, you’re going to look an idiot when Google is way more intelligent about recognizing on-page over-optimization.

Anchor Text Is Dead

Or dying. Over-optimization penalties are becoming more and more prevalent. Does your link portfolio contain thousands of links with optimized anchor text? That looks strange. Naturally, it’s going to include a few click here s and more than a few instances of your URL. So every time you decide to build some links (you shouldn’t be building anyway, you should be earning) with really targeted anchor text, you’re hurting yourself now and you’re hurting yourself even more further down the line.

Co-Citation

Google understands the Internet. I mean, duh. And it knows what it means to be mentioned around words, around other brand names, alongside links to authoritative sites. Read your keyword research. Understand what your audience is searching for. And then sit down with this knowledge and write. If you’re any good, the keywords will naturally find their way in somewhere. Don’t go and screw it up by placing an ugly, stuttering, out-of-place link on it.

Care About More Than Data

It makes me sound like a hippie every time I say this, but SEO is becoming much less of a numbers job than it used to be. Your key skill as an SEO now is communication, and you don’t need to jeopardize that for anybody.

Shut up about keywords. Shut up about link profiles. Bear these things in mind but focus your efforts on tailoring your systems to be best-practice ready. Instead of spending time making sure you’ve got a link profile where 30% of your anchor text is optimized, set up a system that naturally arrives at that number.

It’s kind of like the target culture of hospitals. If you want waiting times to be lower, what’s the best option? Set a target of lower waiting times, or improve efficiency and quality of care so that waiting times, y’know, get lower?

Exactly.

So shut up about keywords.

Our media want to have their sensationalist cake, eat it, then spit it out

William Roache was found not guilty. This means that after reviewing all of the evidence in front of them, a jury of 12 people, with guidance from a judge, decided that he could not be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

expressmailroache

Whatever you think about anonymity of defendants (that’s a subject for another time, and probably another blog), I’ll take the moment to say that false rape accusations are basically in-line with false accusations for any other crime. That’s just something I want to make very clear.

What grabs me about the situation, though, is that the media have taken just 24 hours to commit what I would call a staggering about-turn if I weren’t so wholly unsurprised. The same newspapers that printed front-page headlines of accusations within quote marks (which makes it totally fine guys) are now demanding to know how it ever got to trial. They’re also weighing – very partially and without much thought – into said debate about anonymity.

Seriously. The same publications that toed just the legal side of the line between assertion and second-hand reporting, thereby ruining the man’s reputation, are now asking whether he should have been named. Presumably, this is a complete abandonment of editorial responsibility, an admittance that nobody can control the constant flow of shit gossip from our newspapers, not even when the subject matter is rape and the lives and livelihoods of people are at stake.

Well, that sounds about right.

roachemail

Your Attention, Please

Your opinions are no longer important. There’s a new type of cut-throat marketing mentality, one which exploits you regardless of your political stances or your emotional response. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, they used to say (and maybe they still do). But this is not just publicity, it’s identity. There’s a growing selection of websites, posturing – some more successfully than others – as news sites, with their eyes on just one prize. They want to polarize you to exploit the magnetic repulsion. They’re generating dirty energy just by making you angry.

Ad revenue is a numbers game, but this is not the telling element of a phenomenon which tilts the pinball machine that is the Internet. No, the real factor at play in crafting this new end-goal is search. Search relies heavily on one popularity factor – links to an article – and depends increasingly on another – social shares. The problem is that these metrics don’t, actually, measure popularity. For one, Twitter is a swirl of information where presentation trumps substance. More crucially, though, the amount an article is talked about does not correlate with the extent to which it is agreed with.

attention-38589_640

Hence, the rise of provocative journalism as a deliberate means of upsetting and causing fury. News and opinion are separate things. We can agree that neither should be dull, but the conflation of opinion and news has meant that we no longer treat blog rants with the disdain they deserve when posted on the website of a major news publication. On top of that, we have begun to rationalize that for news to be interesting, it must (or should) be controversial. These things play into the hands of those who play the pitchforks game.

They’d argue, of course, that they’re causing debate, in the same way that fringe political parties say or do something enormously offensive just to get people talking. It would be similarly demeaning if this were the case, but it’s not. Oftentimes, there’s no argument or dispute to be played out – just unmitigated, rightful fury at the content of an article. Usually, the writer will stray into some sort of bigotry to find this reaction; frequently, it’s homophobia or racism, but we’ve also seen it with a pathological hatred of prostitutes, disabled people and fat people.

Jan Moir's article on Stephen Gately's death in 2009 was - if not deliberately, then recklessly - offensive.

Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately’s death in 2009 was – if not deliberately, then recklessly – offensive.

We live in what is largely, theoretically, a free information market, where pertinent information floats to the top. But the reality is that nothing enters the public consciousness without one of a select handful of public figures or news outlets pushing the story. The rest – a category, incidentally, into which these provocative stories fall – is an undercurrent of gentle ripples, of which we absorb the themes and little else. We forget about the number of times we’ve read obvious lies; we just remember the faint insinuation that marginalized group X aren’t as nice as they might seem. And so on.

Calling people out on their ill-judged, reactionary and offensive rhetoric is part and parcel of free speech. But so is an awareness of the dynamics that govern our discourse. These sites have the right, certainly, to publish controversial opinion pieces. But in the absence of their diligence and, indeed, in the presence of their deliberate and conscious aggression and their willingness to offend, it falls to their target audience to find some sort of restraint in their readership. In short, if you see something wantonly offensive online, you should consider whether the best option is to rally against it, or just ignore it. Big companies don’t like being ignored.

The question is whether this strategy will last. Social signals as search ranking factors are at the very least in their youth. if not still in an incubator. If the web can develop an up-vote/down-vote intelligence, to understand the complexities of social sharing, we could begin to see unpopular articles penalized. That’s a whole new can of worms, man.

Johnny Foreigner & Hype Management

Hype Management is probably the name of an agency somewhere in London. I apologise to them profusely.

Johnny Foreigner are an absolutely brilliant indie-punx band from Bi(u)rmingham, UK. Their debut LP Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light was a blistering but weirdly tender plummet down off-kilter guitars and since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength, culminating in the phenomenal, all-encompassing, what-is-being-young Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything in 2011. Lex, Kel, Jun & Lewes are incredible live, too.

They’re the sort of band where calling them hard-working seems a bit shoddy, because they so blatantly don’t see music as a job and that adjective is usually reserved for people like Elbow who aren’t that special but release a lot of music, but they absolutely work damn, damn hard, on top of being enormously talented and very special indeed.

More than anything, though, they’re clever. I’ve heard their new album, You Can Do Better, and it’s sublime. It’s a record that’s as thrilling as it is sweet, and ninth track “Le Schwing” is so joyous it hurts. I’ll be covering the new album for By Volume in the coming week, and I hope to be a tiny part of a huge explosion of love, the simultaneous glow that lights up the Internet when something new and exciting is clickable, is shareable, is like(love!)able. You Can Do Better is out March 10th, and the band are desperate to bottle up the waiting so that when it fizzes over there’s a real bang. In the past, Johnny Foreigner have distributed fake versions of a record through their fanbase and written at length about the importance of this anticipation for up-and-coming bands like them.

At the time of writing – and to my knowledge – everyone who has heard this album has respected the boundaries that everyone should always respect forever. Fostering a network of people you trust like that is essential to building anticipation in a product or an idea. A couple of years ago, I wrote at length about how I would despair and lay down my arms if Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything didn’t take the mainstream. Here’s to hoping that the pressure building this time shakes the city to its core.

johnny-foreigner-you-can-do-better

SEO is PR

Imagine that the Internet is a planet, and that every website is a plot of land. Now, imagine that your business owns a plot of land in the UK, but that you also want to establish a small building on a plot of land in Algeria. You think that if you can build an outpost in Algeria, people in Algeria will think you’re great. Imagine that you go to Algeria and walk onto a plot of land which is owned by an Algerian farmer, and begin to build your outpost without his permission. Imagine that he gets angry and punches you. Then imagine that the police show up.

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This is the rough, stupid end of link-building – the dregs of grey- and black-hat SEO. But the analogy of trespassing and constructing without permission serves its purpose; we can no longer think of link-building as something carried out by an individual for their personal gain. It is, at the very least, a joint venture between two people who own plots of land. I’d go as far as to say that there’s a third party whose participation, or at least consent, we need: the reader.

So what was, for a brief blip, a matter of cunning and guile, suddenly looks an awful lot like traditional marketing. For instance:

  1. We need to be aware of, and sensitive to, the business objectives of others. If a potential partner’s success is reliant upon their credibility, we need to fact-check anything we contribute three times over.
  2. It takes time to build a relationship with trust and understanding. This is not a flash-in-the-pan exercise; a couple of quick emails back and forth will not bring about the kind of partnership we need.
  3. An introduction from a mutual colleague, friend or acquaintance will help us to work better together, as will a face-to-face meeting, or at least a conversation on the phone. When the audience is involved in our thinking, we can’t cut corners on message.
  4. We need to recognise the limitations and be restrained in our co-operation. If two companies support each other all the time, it looks strange to real humans and it looks strange to search engines. What’s newsworthy or interesting is newsworthy or interesting. What isn’t, isn’t.

This is revolutionary and probably terrifying for the technology companies that have grown and made SEO their domain: an industry notorious for its lack of charisma has suddenly been asked to suit up, shave, and learn to talk to real people about real opportunities for collaboration.

Credit: Aidan Jones

Credit: Aidan Jones

Most or many of them won’t clean up their act, or at least not until it’s too late. Some will be incapable, and others will be unwilling. But the writing is on the wall: the people who will succeed in marketing their websites are the people who know how to talk, how to make deals, how to spot opportunities and how to appeal to their market.

Proper businesses, then.