Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

I’m sorry I haven’t a clue
09/07/2009, 10:02
Filed under: antarctica

Half a night’s sleep and a headful of painkillers, and the world looks a little happier. Or less angry, at least.

I had an idea for a Twitchhiker follow-up about a fortnight ago. It was brilliant. I tweeted how brilliant it was. I was so excited. But I didn’t act on it because it was unwieldy, I couldn’t pin down the rules and it had the potential to run my life into the ground. It involved everyone else having the adventure while I stayed at home, and it was exactly what Twitchhiker is about. I discussed it with a few people and it was the ideal way to stay true to Twitchhiker but take it in a fresh direction. I ran away from it because it was way too scary, which should have told me it was worth doing.

Instead a week later, I entered this competition at less than a fraction of a fleeting moment’s thought, thinking it could somehow repeat the success we enjoyed in March.

I got it wrong. One reason is that regardless of whether we win this competition or not, the true beneficiary won’t be charity, me, the second Twitchhiker or anybody following the project. It’ll be a private company that’ll have amassed a huge database and a considerable amount of marketing exposure for them to sell more trips off the back of. 10,000… 50,000 people could vote for me, retweet messages, whip up support amongst friends and the outcome could still equate to zero, for everyone except Quark Expeditions.

It’s not ourselves that ultimately determine the outcome here, and that goes completely against the grain of what we began in February. If the first project failed, it failed because of us. If this fails, then it does so regardless of our efforts, and allows others to profit by them.

The underlying reason was summed up by my friend Andy on Skype last night:

With the first Twitchhiker, you were flying by the seat of your pants like some kind of global pinball. All those who wished you well and provided help felt as though they were part of the adventure from the off, that you might stumble into their neighbourhood and bed down for the night, however remote that possibility might have actually been.

This time around, the impression I get is that the involvement of the Twitter community would be severely reduced, and that if you were lucky enough to win, their input would end there, unless they were lucky enough to be taken along with you. Which wouldn’t happen, because obviously you’d take me.

With Twitchhiker 1, there were ‘prizes’ galore, all of them inclusive – either offering help directly or knowing someone who lived in whichever part of the world you happened to be in and alerting them to your ‘plight’.

The first trip was a soap opera written and performed by Twitterers where anything could have happened. The prospective second trip would have a pre-fixed narrative, with Twitterers sitting back and reading your (no doubt hugely insightful and entertaining) blogs and nothing more.

And I think that’s the fundamental reason why the response has been so jarringly different this time around.

Bastard. Some friend he is. But he’s dead right. I had a way to get Twitter involved in raising money for a charity they chose, I wanted a stranger to represent the Twitter community and join the adventure, but in my haste I missed the entire point. Balls.

I’m going to withdraw from the competition this morning. This was entirely the wrong battle to choose for Twitchhiker. I’m happy to hold up my hands and admit I got it wrong. Not because the haters or the critics had a point – none of them bothered to argue a case worth listening to – but because I made a bad call.

If you did support this and believe in it, thank you. I can only apologise to you for your time and efforts spent, and for screwing up.


14 Comments so far
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You sound so disheartened, I feel I have to drop you a line to say don’t worry. We all make mistakes sometimes, and that your decision to withdraw is probably the best move.

Take a chill pill, recover from whatever it was that landed you in the local hospital on morphine and then let us know about your other idea when you feel ready…

Hang on in there, mate, and don’t let the buggers get you down!


Comment by Mandi Millen

Paul, since when were you a crusader for the morality police? As far as I knew, you’re a bit of a crazy cat who likes to go on adventures, write fun stuff about them, and raise money for charity.

Fine, it’s clever marketing for Quark Expeditions, and fair play to them for that. But it would still be a great adventure, and I’d love to read about your sub-zero escapades. There’s not a chance in hell you’d catch me down there!

Comment by Dan

wow – what a rollercoaster! don’t worry, i’m sure that anyone who works on new ideas will have to agree that sometimes they have flashes of brilliance, and sometimes on reflection they are not as great as they first thought. what you have achieved to date is still pretty incredible and no doubt you’ll come up with something else that ticks all the boxes 🙂

Comment by heather

I agree with both your friend Andy and Mandi above (oh dear, just realised that rhymed….ha!)Anyway, sometimes what seemed to be a good idea at first doesn’t always work out the way you wanted it to, but there’s no shame in that. You gave it your best shot and you’re now more than willing to hold your hands up and say “this isn’t gonna work”. So what? At least you tried.

Not to mention that your other “secret” idea will probably be far better than this one, especially if, as Andy says, fellow twitterers can really get involved like we did the first time round and the uncertainty of your path will make it all the more exciting to watch and be a part of.

Either way, you know there’s always a core group of us that will support you whatever adventure you choose to go on and no doubt you would have garnered more supporters as the journey unfolded anyway. Don’t take the naysayer’s comments to heart. They’re a small group of narrow-minded idiots who don’t have the courage or presence of mind to try something like this themselves and take pleasure in trying to put other people down. As my mother always says, “If you can’t say anything nice, keep your damn mouth shut!!”

Comment by jennyc28

Probably for the best, but as mentioned don’t let it get you down.

Comment by Will

I was going to comment on your previous post, but on the whole I think Andy sums up what I was going to say well.

That being said if it is something you really want to do then why not continue with it. You have plenty of skills to enable you to win this, it will just not be as easy as you first thought. It could be as hard as the prize. Probably a better idea for you would be just to forget this comp and go after people to fund your own trip.

Comment by Alistair MacDonald

Yeah, don’t worry about it. But here’s an idea, why not become the pied piper of twitter? Walk from John O Groats to Lands End and pick up other twitterers on the way, you start at one end of the country on your own, and end at the other with a hundred “followers”. I’d certainly give a pound for every live follower you take to Land’s End*.

Just keep thinking, you’ll come up with something great.

(* an affordable cap may apply )

Comment by babydad

What an interesting development. I was around for the first adventure, commented occasionaly, and offered assistance should you have came my way. I admit this second one did not appeal to me. I didnt really care about all your ‘appeals’ to vote, after all you are generally witty and charming.

You almost lost me in your previous post, moaning on about the kind of followers you wish you had. I really had to perservere through. As I read that previous post I was wondering why on earth are you giving up after one week? Quitter – @Twitchhiker – really? So now, I see you have rationalized this entirely on a different level – quite rightly so.

I commend you for standing up and admitting your mistake. I do wish you had also made amends to those of us you previously condemned. So far, you’ve only thanked those who supported you, rather than acknowledge those that stuck with you despite your poor choice. Just my humble opinion. Should you ever Twitchhike through Canada, I would still likely offer a ride or what have you.

Sincerely, Trina

Comment by TrinaMb

Hey Trina, I don’t think I changed my rationalisation, it all sort of joins together. The first post was me thinking out loud why this wasn’t working and feeling unhappy about it. The second post was the all of those thoughts filtered and the realisation. I always say what I’m thinking or feeling – that was a little uncomfortable during the first trip and it wasn’t much fun last night. But I’d rather do that than smile at you through gritted teeth and spin you a yarn.

What I said was that Twitchhiker isn’t about sitting in the shadows – it’s not about watching, it’s about doing. If 11,400 followers (and less now!) were content to watch instead of do, then this was the wrong cause to take up. And it was. I don’t think I condemned anyone, but I did say Twitchhiker didn’t work if people just fancied sitting and watching until the interesting part came along, because it never would. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Next time, if people think it’s such a poor idea, I do hope they’ll say something instead of waiting until after the fact. We can’t run any distance with silence.

Comment by Paul

I do agree you speak your mind, part of what I enjoy/dislike about you 🙂 I have been thinking more about your concerns about your Twitter community. Kindly allow me a moment to say whats on my mind too…
Between adventures, communicate and connect with your Twitter community to create the kind of followers you want. Otherwise there is little reason for the majority of us to tie in. You dont connect with each one as they follow you, at least that was my experience. Plus, you tweet very little about what you’re about/believe in.
Since you’re about a specific kind of community, put some effort into creating it.
I do recognize you are very gracious about responding to others who contact you. I am sure you recognize there are generally many kinds of members in any community, if you only want a certain type, you could do better at communicating that on Twitter.
Intended constructively 🙂
Best, Trina

Comment by TrinaMb

She dislikes me! Oh, the pain… 😦


You know, I hadn’t considered something until that post. I treated this like I was coming straight back off the first trip, like everyone was sat there waiting for me. You’re right, I haven’t said all that much on @twitchhiker recently so why should anyone feel much connection to what I suggest or believe?

Something new to think about next time. Thank you miss x

Comment by Paul

Never mind – you’ll think of something else.

Comment by Pat Woodruff

Followers are not sitting still. They are like a flock of sheep heading to where they are steered or where they believe the action is…
Same with me.
You asked me to help and I promised to help later, but then I simply forgot. Busy as always minding my own business and acting as a part of the flock:-)
Now I remembered I made you a promise…pulled out. No problem at all.
Take care!

Comment by Happy Hotelier

Hello Paul,

I dropped out as I commented a while ago, after the Quark thing. However, I did follow featsoftweat, curious about your next big idea.

Big idea doesn’t come close to covering it.. what a brilliant idea! Well done for getting it up and going, even though it didn’t seem easy at the time. If I can help at all, let me know. (I’m a tech-support guy / trainee linux sysadmin at a webhost; I help keep small [and some quite large] websites online day in, day out.)

Very glad I can re-subscribe to your RSS feed now 🙂



Comment by Kirrus

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