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Mother of two, living life in small-town South Africa

Not in my backyard

In the same week that Avusa iLab launched its new multimedia portal for The Times, I see they’ve launched another new Avusa product, mybackyard. I noticed the ad* for it this morning in the Sunday Times magazine. It looks like an interesting experiment in hyperlocal news, inviting users to contribute their own stories and news. Not the prettiest of sites, but the content is well written, albeit very thin at this stage. I’m curious as to who is putting it all together, but there are no clues on the website, only a “proudly part of Avusa” tagline.

I’m a bit mystified by the branding strategy (what branding? what strategy) and surprised that they’re not taking advantage of their “home brands”, like the Sunday Times. I’ve been looking for the About Us page too. There’s a passing reference and link to The Times website for news in one of the static articles, but not much else. There’s nothing consistent in the look and feel for the site with any of the Avusa products either.

I’m also a little disappointed that the powers that be at Avusa have decided to market mybackyard.co.za before The Times’s multimedia portal. But I’ve worked at a big media organisation before and know how hard it is to get others to believe in your online products. That’s grist for another mill though…

Most surprising to me, though, is the lack of any online buzz around these products. I found out about the iLab product by reading Vincent Maher’s blog. But, last time I checked, he was working for the “competition“. I’ve checked out the blogs of iLab’s team – Justin Hartman, Groogle and Colin Daniels. Nothing. Twitter? Nothing. (Hell, I even checked iLab.co.za, but that’s got nothing to do with anything.) I think Gregor may have mentioned it in his Facebook status. And Ray Hartley, editor of The Times, has an entry at least. But given the depth of the Times’s multimedia site, and the ease at which its possible to cause a stir online in South Africa where the community is very small, I am surprised at the vacuum.

We’re all looking over each other’s shoulders, the competition is tight…. I would think it’s worth bragging if you’ve done something interesting.

(*And as for the print ad… I thought it was an Absa product, frankly. It shows a suburban housewife, in a very 50s dress and a bad tan line, looking over her neighbour’s fence. I get it, but I don’t like it. Not entirely convinced that’s the right target market to go after either.)

Update – Monday, 18 May: I picked up on a Twitter conversation last night around the ‘Flames of Hate’ slideshow the Times have put together of the out-of-control xenophobic violence in Alexandra. It’s a gory, horrific, terrifying piece of work but gives real insight into the situation — and showcases the courageous Times’ photographers have been doing. The voiceover, by Simphiwe Nkwali, is dramatic and so sincere it will stop you in your tracks. 2,336 views since it was put up last night and it’s only 9.20am. Now this is truly the way to launch a multimedia portal…

Check it out here: http://multimedia.thetimes.co.za/photos/2008/05/flames-of-hate/

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Turning over a new leaf

So, I’m in a book club. And I can almost say that without cringing. I joined a book club almost as soon as I moved to Grahamstown three years ago. It was awful. Thankfully, it all came to a spectacular halt when one of the women started having an affair with the husband of another woman in the club. (I just can’t bring myself to use the word “member”. As in, One member withdrew after another member started poking her husband. Eeuw.) Then another, er, member withdrew as she felt the book club was a front for swinging. S’true. It was a real Jilly Cooper moment.

But now I’ve linked up with a bunch of really interesting women who seem to take it all pretty lightly, but are kind of serious. Just the way I like it. And, honestly, it’s really wonderful to be reading again. After Carolina was born, I kind of gave up on being a book worm. Femina magazine was about as deep as I could go. Anyway, had an hour time out this afternoon and spent it on my bed, in the sun, with a book. I felt, almost, like my old self. Am reading The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. Not entirely sure it’s what I feel like right now (which is probably something more gritty and fucked up instead of beautiful and lyrical…) but I’m reading, which is good enough for me.

Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself. – Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

See. That’s why…

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Forgive me, I lurk

While doing some research on travel sites for a proposal, I came across this NYT column on lurking. As I’m often reminded, lurking is “very not in the spirit of interactive media”. Forgive me, but I lurk. I stalk. I hover around your blogs, postings and noticeboards. I seldom, if ever, comment. I may deserve your scorn, but now I have an excuse. The NYT has given me one: “… lurking can’t be a new phenomenon. What name did it used to go by — this practice of anonymously sitting back and taking in long sequences of words without producing any yourself? Hey, wasn’t it once called, perhaps, ‘reading’?”

So here’s Virginia Heffernan’s take on it:

Which brings me to my lurking problem. I can’t tell whether lurking is a devious violation of Web ethics or a return to luxurious nonparticipatory reading. I do know it seems indulgent. When I lurk, I relax, fall silent, become a cosseted 19th-century baroness whose electronic servants bring her funny pictures and distracting tales. I have no responsibilities. I’m entirely on intake. If I were reading Tolstoy or Anita Shreve this way, I’d be an N.E.A.-certified exemplar of civilization.

Exactly.

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Creativity is as important as literacy

“If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will not come up with anything original,” says Ken Robinson, in this remarkable, inspiring TED talk, which we saw at a school meeting earlier this week.

He talks about how education systems across the world “ruthlessly” kill creativity in children and how it’s our responsibility to recognise that creativity is as important in education as literacy. Depressing to think that there are no education systems anywhere that recognise this. As Robinson points out, universally, all education hierarchies are the same: maths, science and language at the top; humanities in the middle and the arts below. As a parent of young, inspired and inspiring children, I worry about having to plug them into a system as rigid as a school.

It’s brilliant. Robinson is hilarious in a dry, English way but has some profound insights. It’s worth taking some time and checking it out.

Filed under: Kids stuff, Personal, , , ,

JZ and Bullard: partners in persecution

So I thought that the Bullard saga was over and done with. As you know (yawn), David Bullard was axed as a contributor to the Sunday Times after his incredibly offensive, racist, column was published. Robert and I wrote an opinionated posting for Thought Leader, as did many others.
Then Bullard apologised in Business Day. Blah blah. Yawn. I thought it was over. I hoped it was over. And, to be honest, I thought Bullard’s career as a columnist was over too.
Not so! This is a country that is apparently so desperate for talent, that it recycles plagiarists, rewards the mediocre and, gasp, repeatedly hails villains as its heroes. Is our president-in-waiting so insecure that he’ll befriend anyone who says he wants to be his friend.
I’ve just (belatedly) read that ANC president Jacob Zuma has ‘granted Bullard forgiveness‘. Seriously. There’s even a photograph to prove it. The most powerful man in the country, shaking the hand of a man who not so long ago described blacks as being lazy, genocidal, primitive and clueless.
The mind boggles. Perhaps I should think of this as final proof that there’s nothing that single malt can’t solve.
But, truly, I almost had to reach for the sick bag when I read this, quoted from a statement issued by Zuma:

“We need talented journalists like yourself to write responsibly and we need journalists who have experienced the pain and humiliation of being on the wrong side of the media to share these experiences with their colleagues.”

Zuma and Bullard. Partners in persecution. Oh please.

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