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March 2010
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May 2010

Ericsson employee set up his own "Hitchhiker's Central" on Facebook

This is pretty nifty: Paul Mathews, an Ericsson employee, was able to use a communication platform at the Swedish firm to enable those stranded without access to the internet to use their phones to post questions and messages to a Facebook page he'd set up to help passengers caught up in the recent flight chaos.

The text messages cost the usual rate but the user is kept up to date with replies for free thanks to the system. "The initiative is not connected to my employment but I am able to deploy the same technology that we export for external developers," he told The Local.

Mathews and his wife Helani manage the site, first set up when some US colleagues were left marooned in the Swedish capital amid the ongoing flight chaos, but he underlined that it is the users, now numbering more than 120, who keep it moving and make it it useful. Full story over at The Local.

I started writing about this issue due to my own experiences using's Hitchhiker's Central (Haikesentralen), but it's a fascinating topic. Not only because of my interest in editorial development and previous experiences from travel PR, but I really think this scenario reveals how powerful communication tools the internet offers and how out of touch too many institutions and companies are with this new communication landscape we live in.

It's not all that new of course, but the future has always been unevenly distributed and the volcano flight chaos, and subsequent transport crisis, just shows us to which extent this is the case.

In my last media report (link in Norwegian) I wrote that "If there is one arena custom-made to think big and fast at the same time, it's social media. The challenge here is that social media to a large extent is comprised of small niches and networks which could do with someone or something to connect it all together. A connection point is exactly what VG's Hitchiker Central has provided in the wake of the current transportation meltdown. But the tools to do this are so easy to use and readily available that it is far from given that this a role media will be able to occupy forever".

Mathews nifty "Stranded in Europe" Facebook page, and accompanying blog is one example of people taking matters into their own hands, and I'm sure there are plenty other, simliar examples to be found. In fact, here's another one, and I'm sure I could find other such initiatives if I did a bit of googling...

Norwegian government and travel industry launch (

About a week after the ash cloud from Eyjafallajökull started wrecking havoc to airtravel all over Europe, The Federation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises (HSH) has launched ( in collaboration with the Norwegan foreign department.

Unveiled yesterday evening, the new website is almost identical to Schibsted-owned's Haikesentralen (Hitchhiker's Central) - dubbed a "mini craigs list" by Jeff Jarvis - but enables professional tour operators, mostly coach companies, to advertise their routes in Norway and Europe for free. The site will only be up during times of emergency such as the one we're experiencing now.

It's a useful site. It would have been much easier if I could have found a coach company with a direct route to England and seats still available when trainer Colin Meek got stranded in Oslo last weekend than organising a private car via Haikesentralen. But isn't this too little, no routes I could have used are currently advertised there, and much too late?

I once worked as a PR for a government-owned destination marketeer so I understand why such collaborative measures take time to organise and get up and running. But this kind of institutional inertia is exactly what makes governments and big companies appear slow, incompetent and often irrelevant in today's media landscape, and that goes for many media companies too.

As Jarvis says: "What’s failing us, all in all, is our power structures, which aren’t built to think big and fast at the same time." 

Thing is, more and more of us have become accustomed to turning to our online networks when we need help or get stuck. Most of the time someone in those networks will respond instantly, or at least within the day. It will certainly not take a week before our calls for help are answered. The beauty of this is that the online tools we use to build such networks are there for governments and companies to exploit as well, and yet, almost eleven years after the blog went mainstream, too few governements and travel companies have fully done so.

As mentioned in my column this week (in Norwegian) several airline companies, such as KLM (in English), Norwegian, SAS, did make an effort to keep their passengers informed via Facebook and Twitter, and many passengers shared information that could benefit their fellow travellers here too. But it's a half-way house at best.

These tools and sites are so easy to use that there really is no excuse: one of my favourite places for travel updates during the ash cloud crisis was this Coveritlive bloog by Tnooz, which is nothing but an aggregation of travel related Twitter and newsfeeds and requires no techical know-how to set up.

However, whether we call it the internet age, age of social media, web 2.0 or what have you, the age we live in today requires a different way of thinking than when monopolithic media controlled most publishing platforms. When writing my column this week I was reminded of something Adam Tinworth once told me about how we need to move from seeing journalism as a product to seeing it as a service (in Norwegian). It would seem a bit strange, though not entirely out of sync with my own experiences, but perhaps that goes for the travel industry too?

Volcano-stranded travellers find help at Hitchhiker’s Central

How often does a news site really save the day? In the wake of the volcanic ash cloud crisis, Norwegian travellers turn to VG’s Hitch Hiker’s Central to save theirs.

While governments are facing mounting criticism for being slow to act, and help its many citizens stranded in other parts of the world in the wake of the crisis, Norway’s biggest news site must have saved many a stranded traveller – it certainly saved me.

Or at least it helped me get the media trainer I had brought over from Scotland for The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) back to the UK despite all planes being grounded.

It’s as simple as it is effective: at an early stage of the crisis, Schibsted-owned launched a two-column site called Hitchhiker’s Central where everyone who can offer transport and everyone who needs transport to various parts of the world can submit ad-like messages.

The messages submitted has ranged from people who just want to go to a neighbouring town, to people needing, or offering, lifts to far-away places such as Dubai or Barcelona. And my own experience suggests it works surprisingly well. When we first realised that the trainer in question might not be able to fly back to Scotland as planned on Saturday, we first joked that we would put together a private boat to take him to Aberdeen and auction off the free places to other stranded travellers on Twitter.

In the end, that proved unpractical, but when I found a friend who were willing to drive from Oslo to Dover and back to get him home, I was able to fill up the car in both directions, thereby covering the costs of the trip, by submitting a message to Hitchhiker’s Central. I did call around to a few other travellers advertising for lift to London before submitting an ad myself, and several of those I talked to had already found lift from Oslo to London which suggests my experience was not unique.

Within minutes of placing an "ad" (a free message) on Hitchhiker’s central, the receptionist at a Rica hotel in Oslo called me to hear if I had room for a British businessman staying at the hotel (that’s service for you, it made me like Rica even better than I already did). The last passenger on the trip to Dover (they arrived this morning) was a Norwegian student desperate to get back to the UK for his exams at Cardiff University. On the way back to Oslo, the car will bring a salesman, a singer and a conductor - all Norwegians who were stranded in London.

I do wonder about the conversations in all those cars now travelling across Europe with people who must be complete strangers to each others. I hope some people have the presence to record them, either by way of video or blog. At least all the people I talked to sounded like really nice people, and part of me wanted to go myself just for the adventure of it. I’m not so sure it felt all that wonderful when they arrived Dover after 20 hours on the road, but still…at least they’re in the right country now.

I'm thinking that all the wonderful ways I’ve seen people collaborate and help each other get home, via Twitter, blogs and on Hitchhiker’s Central, must be the one redeeming feature of this crisis. Social media has certainly played an important role too, and Twitter was of some help for me when planning the Oslo-Dover-Oslo trip.

What could offer in this situation was scale, with it’s close to 3m unique users a week it offered people a brilliant connection point that few other sites could. It’s a great service to its readers and, I’m sure, a great click winner too.

For the record: It must be said that the media trainer in question was in Norway to do in-house training for and give a talk at a NONA-event, and that’s editor is a board member of NONA, but his visit was organised by me, as the president of NONA, and, as this crisis happened over the weekend, so was the "rescue operation".


Why innovation is so hard for the news industry

It's the deadlines, stupid.

"Because of the pressures of news – you can’t have dead air or blank pages – so much of your focus and time spend is on today that you don’t have much time to think about tomorrow," said professor Robert Picard in a recent, in-depth interview I did with him. The interview, for this magazine, is not online, but this was one of the quotes that really stuck with me.

The question of why the media industry is so slow to adapt to change has been on my mind for many years - I mean, being flexible and thriving in the face of change were things we were taught were prerequisites for a journalism careeer as early as high school - and I have several more or less finished blog posts on this sitting on my desktop. Sadly, what was true in 2006 or 2008 is still pretty much true, and I might still return to some of my earlier unpublished musings on this later, but this quote really brings home one of the obvious issues at work.

I won't try to pretend that I'm immune to that sort of behaviour myself, though I would like to think that I've learnt from early mistakes. Take blogging for instance, in December 2002 a friend told me about "how blogs would turn the world upside down" (this was at the time of the infamous Trent Lott affair), and started reading blogs at the time, I even read books on blogging such as Cluetrain, but kept blaming my deadlines for why I couldn't possibly blog myself until a friend set up a blog for me (this blog, incidentally) in September 2005 and told me to get going. Since I soon saw my mistake in not taking up blogging sooner I've been extra careful since to pay more attention to, and get to grips with, emerging technology and trends.

But back to that Picard interview. While writing my contribution to "Playing Footsie with the FTSE? The great crash of 2008 and the crisis in journalism", I was reminded of how the media always has been much better at covering events than process and trends, and the often short term focus of the newsroom due to institutional constraints and bad planning. Could it be that even though we complain about how politicians seem unable to think further ahead than the next election, they're still masters of long term vision compared journalists who're unable to think beyond next deadline? And media executives?

"The only people who are worse than journalists when it comes to short term vision is media executives who never seem to be able to think further than the next quarter," said Picard, who didn't have much faith in journalism school on this point either: "I don’t hold my breath for journalism education because journalism professors are not the most creative types and rarely make innovation and entrepeneurialism a priority."

Still, compared to when he lectured on "The Future of News" in Oslo last year (these quotes are not from the lecture, but from my interview with him after the talk), Picard was more moderate, not quite as controversial, this year, a fact he explained by saying that media "companies are not so much in denial as last year, so I don't need to hit quite so hard to make them wake up."

Social media monitoring for parents

I do my share of talking to journalists about monitoring what's being said about companies or keywords on their beats online, so when I stumbled across these videos on how parents can use social media to do the same I couldn't help but laugh and have found myself unable to get them off my mind since.

The first of these is from September 2009, the second from mid-March this year, but they are both such great illustrations of our brave new media world that they can stand re-watching. First, the how to:

Then some of the wider implications (via Adam on Roaming Originals):

It must be said that I've always thought age is a state of mind and am delighted to see friends of all ages on Facebook, one of the latest being a friend fast approaching seventy. Still, I've kept my Facebook profile family-free, save siblings, and the fear of uncomfortable family discussions about not friending near and dear ones is part of the reason why I chose to use a nick when I first set up my current Facebook profile...