Thursday, April 30, 2009

'Ham'-mered by Diseased Pigs and Disgusting Pizzas

It was the best of times, it is the worst of times in this tale of two culinary crises.  The first has the potential to be truly cataclysmic, while the second could balloon into a major corporate catastrophe.  How both incidents have rippled through the social media world makes for an interesting study.

The more malevolent and fearsome one is of course Swine Flu, which threatens right now to become a terrifying force crippling both societies and economies. Like previous disease outbreaks like SARS and Bird Flu, the WHO seem to be particularly worried about this one, proclaiming that it has the potential to become a "global pandemic". From the US to Mexico, China and now Singapore (which has raised its alert levels from Yellow to Orange), Swine Flu has reared its ugly snout.  Fortunately, both the US and Singapore governments have websites detailing the dos and don'ts.

Interestingly, a major global crisis like Swine Flu appear to be more talked about and discussed in mainstream rather than social media.  Blogs and social media platforms tend to focus more on information sharing and facts, like this excellent scientific one which details the truth about it.  Mashable has a useful step-by-step approach on how you can track it down.  Healthmap has a useful googlemap app showing the locations of the afflictions.  

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Even normally light-hearted Boing Boing has a fairly sombre Q&A on Swine Flu.  My good friend Otterman posted two useful pieces about the Swine Flu: here and here.  Apparently, you can't get it from eating pork (phew!), so don't give up your "bak kut teh"s, pork knuckles and sausages just yet...

In contrast, Domino Pizza's major Youtube snafu garnered a lot of online analysis, debate and discourse, getting two of its employees fired for disgusting, unhygienic actions (like spitting on a sandwich and sticking cheese up their noses).  Through the power of social media, Consumerist even managed to track down the store where the offensive acts were done.  Mediacurves did a fairly detailed analysis of the damage done to the Domino's brand, and the results were pretty bad.  Domino's boss Patrick Doyle apologised (see video below) and that did ameliorate the damage somewhat.



Unfortunately, Mr Doyle's efforts was somehow perceived by some to be insincere, stiff and scripted.  Citing another Domino's Pizza apology (hmm.... they seem to get into these things), Church of the Customer's Ben McConnell (citing from Beth) gave us a thumbs up example of how franchise owner Ramon de Leon said sorry in a far more earnest and sincere way.  



Incidentally, Domino's Pizza is probably one of the most social media savvy fast food chains in the world with a Youtube channel, Twitter account, Myspace account and Facebook page.  However, just having all the greatest shiny bright platforms aren't enough if your chief executive isn't trained to respond quickly and sincerely to a major crisis of confidence.

To me, what's interesting about the two ongoing incidents is how social media users have reacted and responded to them.

In the Swine Flu crisis, bloggers, facebookers, mash-upers, and twitterers alike are helping to channel the message across without passing judgement or criticism (well mostly anyway).  Most of the blogs which I come across were fairly factual, using their platforms to clarify any misconceptions about the disease and providing a public service.  The goal is to get the message across to as many people as possible using their channels.  Discourse isn't quite possible when knowledge of a highly medical condition is partial.

You can also see that the mainstream media, governments and the WHO in particular play critical information dissemination roles in ensuring that the right information gets out in a timely and orderly fashion.  Global pandemics are no laughing matter, and the business of health reporting isn't one that any citizen journalist, no matter how well-intentioned, can get into quickly.  Better to let the experts give their prognosis and for the rest of us to do our job in channelling these messages to our respective networks. What many Twitterers, Facebookers, and Bloggers have done in this instance is to assist in spreading the word to their respective constituents.

Compare this with the Domino's Pizza case however, where almost everybody seem to want to weigh in with their opinions, views and suggestions.  While the company has tried (valiantly?) to defend its position and extinguish the flames engulfing its reputation, it hasn't managed to bring the negative vibes to a complete closure.  The main sources of information did not come from the company (in fact Youtube took down the offending videos, but it was somehow resurrected by cyber sleuthing). Here is citizen vigilantism at its best (or worst).

Hopefully, with time, Domino's could repair its damaged brand reputation and build a positive customer perception yet again.  While the apology of its head honcho hasn't come across entirely well, it is still a good step to say sorry in an age of transparency, openness and accountability.  What the company should do is to slowly restore consumer confidence by openly communicating about what it's doing about kitchen practices to prevent future mischief from occurring again.

UPDATES:

1) The Ministry of Health in Singapore has sent an SMS to all with the following message - "MOH Alert lvl Orange. W immed effect, staff who return from Mexico & affected areas (check MOH website for live list) to self-quarantine 7 days n work from home." It looks like the Swine Flu is getting serious as this is only the second time we get such a public service message.

2) Kevin Lim pointed out that a too much information and lead to growing ignorance via this article in Wired by Clive Thompson. I guess this could have some relevance for the H5N1 virus and its methods of transmission if information is spread without checking back to the relevant authorities.

3) Rambling Librarian Ivan Chew tells you how to seive the wheat from the chaff (or the music from the noise) in this post, and who you really should trust and believe in during times of crisis.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Walking With Giants @ Otway Fly

Treetop walks seem to be a common feature of nature parks these days, and we certainly enjoyed our very own along the Southern Ridges of Singapore. Being hardcore outdoor lovers, we decided to check out the Otway National Park on our way to the Great Ocean Road and Port Campbell (near where the 12 Apostles stood) and had an acrophilic (opposite of acrophobic!) time walking amongst some of the tallest trees in the Southern Hemisphere at Otway Fly.

Stretching for 600 metres long at heights up to 25 metres above the ground, Otway Fly is a steel girded treetop walk weaving through age-old primary temperate forests with a 45-metre high observation tower. Apparently, the tree top walk here is the world's highest and longest, and is nestled amongst temperate rainforest species like Mountain Ash (the world's tallest flowering plant), Myrtle Beech and Blackwood. Other than the canopy high attraction, one could also take a prehistoric walk through ancient ferns and other species along the 1.9 km long forested path.

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Hitting the long and winding road to Otway via Geelong and the M1 Freeway.

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Fortunately, my wife has found ways to keep Ethan amused during those long drives....

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Once we reached our location, Ethan couldn't help posing amongst the hills ala Julie Andrews in Sound of Music....

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A playground like this provides endless fun for kids.  One thing I noticed is that they can be found everywhere!

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Beware of this bone-headed dinosaur (Pachycephalosaurus) as it can crush your ribs with a single head butt!

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Restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops are a must-have feature out in the wilderness.

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This photo shows you the scale of those trees, relative to our puny selves.

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We were stopped in our tracks by this sign...

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...unfortunately, we were too late to stop our five year old from wandering off on his own!

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Educational panels like this one here help to enlighten us about the various fauna and flora found in the cool forest.

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Little resting points like these allow photographers to take some scenic shots without blocking the pathways. 

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This is the 45 metre high observation tower which could be reached by climbing a spiral staircase.
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The view from the top was breathtaking, breezy and very very green.

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After we descended from the tower, we walked downwards along the steel path.

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And descended into a gorgeous valley of giant ferns.

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Another view of the forest giants - this time from the bottom of the trees.

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Fortunate for us, we could hitch a ride on this buggy which saved us lots of time coming back.

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It sure was a fast and rollicking ride..... hold on to your seats!

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After all that hardwork, we had some food and coffee at the cafe...

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...and almost managed to catch a photograph of some colourful feathered friends!  Oh well, maybe next time...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rural Delights @ Collingwood Children's Farm

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On the 3rd day of our Easter holiday, my family and I went to the Collingwood Children's Farm at the recommendation of Tim Richards, to experience its pastoral pleasures just minutes away from the Melbourne CBD. Apparently, it has a farmer's market every second Saturday which offered fresh farm grown produce (many organic) from participating farms in the greater Victoria region which surrounded the city of Melbourne.   What this meant was that the farms could sell directly to end consumers (many of them were small family-owned establishments) without having to pay middle-men like retailers and distributors their share of the pie.

For a flat fee of just $2 for adults (free for kids), you can visit both the animal farm itself and the farmer's market too.  That's pretty cheap considering that normal admission prices are about $16 for adults and $8 for kids.  Certainly, a delightful way to spend a Saturday morning!

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Our first stop is this old rustic Convent along St Helier's Street just outside the farm with a nice charming al fresco cafe.

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Over there, we met with Tim, his wife Narrelle, and their friend Julia.  It was nice chatting with them and finding out what some of the great highlights of the farm were.  They certainly know Melbourne and its surroundings in and out!

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At the insistence of my son Ethan, we visited the farm animals first starting with these well-fed chickens with black feathers.

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We next saw this female pig (called a sow) having a morning snack and looking surprisingly clean and un-muddied.  

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Next to her were these cute, squealing piglets which delighted Ethan tremendously.

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A gentle reminder on what not to do on the farm premises.  Instead, you should...

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feed them to the goats here.  What's great is that you don't have to pay for the animal feed here.

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This handsome equine beast was very friendly, and allowed us to pet its head.  It also took some organic carrots from another visitor - much to the chagrin of his wife!

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Next stop is the farm produce section, where lots of sweet and delicious fruits in season were offered.  You could either eat them whole...

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...or drink them as juices like these here.

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Lots of people brought along their own trolleys and bags for their Saturday marketing.  Fresh vegetables like these were pretty popular organic grocery items.

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To keep everybody - especially the kids - entertained, this performer in the middle of the market played many different traditional Australian instruments.  You could also join in the fun.

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To satisfy growling tummies, a wide array of cooked food items like pancakes, buns, and these tantalisingly fragrant frankfurters were available for a snack or breakfast.  

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What's great is that you can also sample practically everything on offer, like these dried fruits and nuts here...

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...and wash it down with a glass of orange juice - FOC!  Well, the stall owner offered it to Ethan anyway after watching his intense interest in the juice making contraption.

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Before we adjourned to the Great Ocean Road, we stole one final glance at some fine feathered friends at the farm.  

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Apparently, these ducks were so frightened by the large number of people, especially kids who love to chase them around, that they huddled under a wooden table and bench!

As a regular free and easy traveler, one of my usual headaches is in locating suitable hotel rooms for the night, especially those that are priced affordably and cost effectively. I learnt this the hard way recently, when trying to get a travel agent to book my hotel rooms for me.  

Apparently, there is a new resource - Hotelscombined.com - which allows you to search for the cheapest hotel rates over multiple websites at once.  Headquartered in Sydney, the company provides over 900,000 global hotel deals are available for you to access from a single website.  For Melbourne alone (where I now stay), there are more than 340 hotel deals available.  Do try it and let me know if it works for you.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Social Media in the World of Museums


Clay Shirky speaks at the Smithsonian (courtesy of taoboy)

After several weeks of doing some online research/surfing/bumming around and asking friends (like the ultra intelligent Kevin Lim), I managed to get a handle (well partially) on what's happening for social media in the museum world. Here's what I found after some digging around:

First is the discovery of a blog aggregator for museums around the world called (surprise surprise) Museum Blogs! Believe it or not, there are now some 331 museums blogs (at least those which are captured here) around the world. I am glad to see that our dearly beloved Yesterday.sg is there too! Yay.

Oh yes, you can also subscribe to museum podcasts too if you wish to listen in on what's happening in museums rather than to view layers of text.

I also read that the Brooklyn Museum, one of the foremost users of social media in the curatorial world, has used Twitter to enlist volunteers and members in its latest outreach programme. They called it a "support revolution" and have managed to make some good progress in getting folks around the world to join them on 1stfan. You can follow them on twitter too.

On the use of Youtube for museums, Beth Kanter made some questioning observations on their effectiveness in terms of drawing actual visitors and rightfully commented that behind-the-scenes videos appear to be more popular. She pointed to this interesting study on the reach and effectiveness of Museum Youtube videos on Museums and the Web (another invaluable resource for heritage social media user). Check out the Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) Youtube page, as well as that of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) and see which you prefer. Its fascinating to note how the number of views on these museum video sites could vary from as low as 100 views to as high as 100,000 depending on its content.

If you like participating in online discussions, check out this network called on Museums 3.0 on Ning a fairly active group engaged in various digital discourses concerning the future of the social web for museums and digital heritage. Created by Lynda Kelly from Sydney's Australian Museum, the quantity and quality of conversations there made it a delightful read, often peppered with thought provoking and insightful contributions from various members. Highly recommended!

Finally, if you like Clay Shirky's work and are a fan of his thoughts on social media, you may want to check out this Youtube video of him speaking at one of the Smithsonian Institution's 2.0 event. There is a blog post by Mia Ridge capturing the key thoughts of this which includes the value of Flickr to museums, how artefacts could be "hubs" in a "hub and spoke" world and the nexus of attention radiating outwards from them, the value of tagging, as well as the formation of communities of practice.  

Mia also wrote about an earlier Clay Shirky talk in London which focused largely on the thrust of his book "Here Comes Everybody" and highlighted some examples of social media being used effectively for citizen activism - Barack Obama's election campaign website and the "Yes We Can" music video, Gnarly Kitty's posts about the Thai Coup, and No Pants Day by Improv Everywhere ( a kind of flash mob group).  

It will be interesting to see how new media tools could be employed for grassroot evangelism for museums in Singapore, learning from the various practices around the world.  Over at the National Heritage Board of Singapore, we are trying various ways to encourage Word Of Mouth which could hopefully win us new fans in the longer-term.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Can We Truly Market the Arts?


Art or sheer marketing brilliance? (Damien Hirst's £50 million For The Love of God courtesy of Secretly Ironic)

There is an underlying tension in the field of cultural management where one has to balance between giving customers what they want and preserving artistic integrity.  This is especially prevalent in what we term as the 'high arts' like classical music, ballet, theatre and museums.

Against the ever growing competition from lifestyle activities coupled with the ever shrinking discretionary time of today's consumers, it appears suicidal for art organisations to hold their ground for the sake of their art.  Considered by many to be a discretionary expense (compared to purchasing groceries, fuel and homes), cultural activities have never faced such tremendous competition as the present age.

While I do love social media and the web (as my friends would attest to), they also present fresh challenges to physical attractions like museums.  How do you then cajole, nudge or even threaten an individual to leave his or her laptops at home when they can access a non-stop stream of entertainment and interaction, 24 by 7, most of which are free?  

I believe that there is a merit in balancing between both original inspiration and commercial feasibility.  As cultural institutions, we should always give sufficient respect and space to ourartists, curators, artistic directors, performers and impresarios to hone and perfect their craft.  Those flashes of brilliance normally do not occur in a focus group discussion or management meeting, and the last thing you want to do is to kill creativity with an overdose of bureaucracy and endless expectations.

Creators need their time out and we should give it to them.  However, it cannot be unconditional.  This is where we have to skillfully infuse their love for liberation with customer needs, wants and desires.  After all, most art organisations do not exist for themselves, but to serve a greater public mission and purpose.

One way to arrive at a win-win strategy is to look at adjusting and moulding the supporting and auxiliary services accompanying an original composition to suit the needs of audiences.  You don't have to tell your curator how to curate, but you can help him to communicate his thoughts and ideas more effectively to a layman audience.  Customer feedback is also useful in determining how facilities are designed and maintained - you will be surprised how important that loo at the back of your pristine gallery is, or how peeved off people can become over a frowning security guard!

Marketers can also be proactive in giving their inputs and feedback on programme line-ups based on their previous experience, but be careful how you do it.  Choreographing a new dance or designing a complex stage set up for an opera requires considerable passion and devotion - often over long hours - and the last thing you want to do is to quell the soul of an artist.

What may be productive though is to work within the parameters of the proposed work of art and to see how its fringe elements could be adapted or modified to suit a mainstream audience weaned on Channel 8 dramas and comedies.  For example, using analogies and metaphors that a potential audience can easily relate to when consuming the performance or show, providing self-help guided sheets, and maybe even creating blogs and websites that can "wikipedia-ise" an artistic experience.

To market the arts, you don't have to dumb down every show, exhibition or display to cater to the lowest denominator.  The core and artistic essence of the production must be kept intact.  What we can do as marketers and communicators though is to provide that bridge of understanding to help make the art more meaningful to the masses.  That is where the value of marketing the arts truly lies.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Our Easter Holiday @ Melbourne City

Last week, my family came over to Melbourne during the Easter vacation period and we had a great time discovering different parts of the colourful city together. We opted for a slightly different itinerary this time around (its the second trip for my family), exploring neighbourhoods that were slightly off the beaten tourist track and enjoying what typical Melburnians would like. I suppose we had the benefit of my prolonged stay here as a student, plus our insatiable curiosity to try out unique experiences in different parts of the neighbourhood.

Here is the start of our 10 day holiday in Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road, South Australia's Limestone Coast, Adelaide City (and surrounds), and Kangaroo Island. First off is a trip around the city.  I hope you enjoy this journey as much as we did!

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Our first stop was the Children's Garden located at the Royal Botanic Gardens, off the South of the Yarra River.   

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This huge gourd was almost as long as Ethan's leg, and is probably still growing daily at an alarming rate.

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A sand pit in the middle of the children's garden provided lots of muddy fun for the little ones.

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More vegetables at the garden - this time tomatoes which are in season during Autumn.

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We next stepped into the Botanic Gardens itself and trekked for quite a distance before we found this spot of paradise.

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The order of the day?  A family picnic of course, with bananas, pita bread with hummus, chocolates and red Shiraz wine.  

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Naturally, it was pure bliss, and we wouldn't help having 40 winks on the grass.

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Along the banks of the Yarra River, Ethan spotted the same ferris wheel which he first took about 1.5 years ago.

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After an afternoon's nap, we ventured out at night to the Crown Entertainment Complex for some nourishment, and settled on this restaurant called Automatic Cafe.

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Fresh seafood was the order of the day at this outlet, although prices were a little steep by our standards.


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Our dinner of risotto and a grilled fish was well received, washed down with sparkling wine and beer.  
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After dinner, we strolled along the Southbanks area and took photographs along the way.

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The next morning, we took a tram ride on number 96 all the way from Collins Street to the St Kilda region. It was fun to sit back and enjoy the scenery.

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The weather was a little cloudy and chilly that day, but we found ways to entertain ourselves at the beach.

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Like picking up seashells and pebbles, a favourite hobby of my 5 year old!

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Morning tea at Acland Street was the next order of the day, and we settled on a cafe opened by Australians of Italian descent.

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The beef pie and vegetable pastie (water bottle not included!) which we had was delicious and sustained us for the next few hours.

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Luna Park was our next destination, although we didn't take any of the rides due to height restrictions for Ethan.

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Says Ethan, "Someday when I grow up, I am going to ride the toughest, meanest roller coaster out there!"

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Hopping on to the tram, we travelled all the way up North to Brunswick Street.  Unfortunately, due to the Easter holidays, most of the shops at this bohemian artistic enclave were closed.

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Here's a shot of the artistically decorated benches in the neighbourhood.

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A toy and children's clothing shop, full of temptations for our little one.

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We next took a walk to a tram station and got to the North Richmond area, populated largely by Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai eateries and shops.  Here's Ethan and Tina peering at a moving live lobster, hours before its final demise as the night's dinner!

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It was cool to see anime-themed street art along the side alleys.  In fact, street art is practically everywhere.


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With time on our hands (yes we were pretty productive!), my family decided to pay my humble abode a visit. Well, at least it isn't quite a slum....yet.

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The final stop for the day is dinner at Toki Restaurant, along Grattan Street close to Lygon Street. It served pretty authentic Japanese food (a family favourite), and went down well with wine. Cheers mate!