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.


It’s not pretty, but it’s where we’re at
08/07/2009, 21:32
Filed under: antarctica

Maybe it’s the fact the morphine is now out of my system and I’ve a rotten, skull-crushing headache after my trip to A&E on Monday night, or maybe I’ve been plain unrealistic about all of this since last Thursday.

To take this competition by the horns and give the other competitors a run for their money means three months of effort from everyone. Voting doesn’t end until the last day of September, but it’s week one and already the abuse on Twitter has begun and worse – hate mail. Really. That never happened once in two months of the Twitchhiker project, yet this time I received two on the first day.

What’s dawning on me is that unlike the first Twitchhiker outing, this time our success or failure won’t be measured on our terms. I haven’t set the rules, we don’t collectively determine the outcome. I entered this competition on a whim, thinking that it was a chance to prove Twitchhiker wasn’t just a fluke.

But in the heat of the moment I made an assumption – that it was the majority, not the minority of followers who would support it. The fact is out of 11,400 followers on Twitter, only a small number have shown any interest in making this happen. Ask those 11,400 individuals to pass on a message at various times and collectively less than 100 individuals have done so.  The majority are seemingly waiting until things get interesting, until there’s a charity to support or a journey to follow. Most are content to sit silently in the shadows, which ordinarily would be no bad thing – Twitter lets you follow strangers without the need to give anything in return. It isn’t what Twitchhiker is about though.

Of course I don’t want to harass people into supporting a cause, but that’s how plenty are perceiving my tweets for support. I know that because of the replies, DMs and email I’ve received, and because nearly 300 people have stopped following @twitchhiker in the past six days. It’s not so noticeable because nearly 200 have started following, but taking into account double votes cast, it’s probably as many followers as the number that have voted. That’s absolutely gutting.

Of course if the 10,500 followers I’ve accused of sitting on their hands have all voted for another entrant or have ideological views concerning tourism in Antarctica, that’s fine. I suspect that’s not the case however.

The bottom line is I can’t do this for the next three months of my life if the majority of people don’t want to get involved. The economics are different this time around; essentially a few hundred people made the first Twitchhiker project happen – this time I’ve tied an arm behind our back by ploughing us into a competition that requires thousands and thousands of supporters.

I know it’s only been a week, that we’re sitting pretty in fifth place and that this is a marathon, not a sprint, but I can’t help but feel this was the wrong cause to take up.

How not to vote
08/07/2009, 09:13
Filed under: antarctica | Tags: ,

Photo by Dean Terry on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Dean Terry on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

After just six days I’m amongst the top five entries for the competition to join Quark Expedition’s trip to Antarctica. Those ahead of me are ahead of me by a long, long way but it’s a brilliant start with three months of voting still to go.

Yesterday, however, I received an email from Quark. It’s been sent to some/all the entrants in the Antarctica competition, or perhaps only specific entrants deemed to be trying to game the competition. Yikes:

Dear Paul,

We are delighted with the response to Blog Your Way to Antarctica, and congratulate you on your efforts to become the Official Quark Blogger. So it is with disappointment that I find it necessary to address a concern that has been drawn to our attention by our Webmaster.

This competition was intended to be light-hearted and fun. We wanted to spotlight the need to protect the polar regions and we wanted to provide an opportunity for passionate folk to voice their concerns and hopes. We wanted the competition to be as inclusive as possible, so we kept the rules simple.

Our Webmaster has been auditing entries and has determined that some competitors may be creating alias addresses with no other intention than to inflate their votes. We recognize that multiple addresses could be used – most people have at least two – a work and a personal address – we accepted that zealous supporters would use both addresses. But we did not expect to find that our competitors would attempt to contravene eligibility requirements in an unethical manner, by creating email addresses for the sole purpose of voting.

Therefore we have clarified the voting rules. They will be updated today. We will continue to monitor the situation and should we find evidence of voting irregularities, we will immediately disqualify the entrant.

Thank you for your participation. We want every competitor to have an equal chance to become the Official Quark Blogger. And we want the person who is finally chosen to represent the values of sportsmanship, concern for the environment and ethical behavior.

It’s worrying Quark are putting the emphasis on competitors registering new email accounts to vote for themselves. I’ll be honest with you – I’ve voted for myself and so has my wife (at least she says she has, but I have my doubts). Now I’ve admitted that, if I do win this competition by two votes then I’ll be screwed. If competitors are rigging their own entries I’m sure Quark will take care of them – my concern is that others don’t do that in the name of Twitchhiker.

As the rules acknowledge, most people have at least two email addresses. I’m more than happy that people vote using these day-to-day addresses – I’ve asked people to do this in tweets (please do!) and Quark expect this will occur. They’re not worried about small irregularities – what they won’t tolerate is an individual registering dozens of accounts to vote.

I don’t want anyone following the letter of the rules to defeat the spirit of them, and I’d hope the other competitors feel the same. Above all else, Twitchhiker has always been about hundred and thousands of people making small contributions to make something more substantial happen. Regardless of any rules, this is the spirit of the Twitchhiker project, and if it doesn’t have the support to win this competition fairly, then it doesn’t win.

That’s not to say I don’t want us to win. I really, really want us to 🙂

Gown but not out
07/07/2009, 12:30
Filed under: antarctica | Tags: , ,

A lumbar puncture isn’t my preferred way to spend a Tuesday morning. I’d much rather be enjoying a long bath or quality time with the fridge. Yet here I am, bashing away at the iPhone, wearing a drafty gown that threatens to bare my arse to strangers and assorted members of the medical profession.

I won’t bore you with the frivolities of my situation, except to mention the effects of last night’s mass of morphine caused some randomly delightful dreams earlier this morning, including a radio interview on BBC Cumbria with the cast of Battlestar Galactica.

Anyhoo, I just wanted to explain why I vanished from Twitter last night, after a cracking surge in ramping up the votes from below 240 to 360. Obviously I don’t intend to spoil your Twitter timelines with a half-a-dozen tweets at a time, but an intense burst of activity now and again is a great way to get everybody involved. Thank you if you retweeted and voted, and remember you can register any valid email address to vote – if you have email at work and home, you can register both.

Given that we came to this competition a fortnight late, you’ve all done a sterling job in making up ground. Voting for the competition continues until the end of September, so there will be plenty of twists and turns to come. It’s amazing to see us in the top five already, but please keep doing all you can to get stuck in and tell others.

The merest thought of an adventure across the Antarctic is making me giddy like a schoolboy. No, it’s not the morphine. If we can win this contest, then raising money for a charity chosen by Twitter and unearthing a second Twitchhiker to join me on the expedition – it’ll all be huge amounts of fun. Fun squared, in fact. Maybe even fun cubed.

By the way, voting for me doesn’t mean you have to come to Antarctica if we win! I’d like to discover a fellow traveller at random through Twitter, but it’s your vote that counts right now.

Right, my eyes are shuttering up so it’s time for more dreamy smock-bound adventures. See you soon.

And so the hate mail begins…
03/07/2009, 08:27
Filed under: antarctica | Tags: , ,

To vote for me, visit the Quark Expedition website and click Vote for Me below my picture – it takes 30 seconds to register and you can opt-out immediately.

Not even 12 hours after my first post on Antarctica, and the hate mail starts. Not just one email, but two:


Woah. They’re using caps lock so you know they mean it.

But do they have a point? I read a dozen or so entries, noted their dreams, their hopes and fears, and I still decided to enter – does that make me selfish? Am I looking to destroy the dreams of others?

It’s an argument you can lay at the feet of anybody else taking part. Who is the most worthy winner of this trip? And if that person wins, don’t they destroy the dreams of others by doing so? Aren’t Quark Expeditions the ultimate destroyer of dreams by not paying for everyone to go?

Then you realise; it’s a competition. It’s a battle, a race, a challenge. I’m not out to hurt the feelings of others, I’m here to take on another adventure, and this is a chance to do just that. And so to email number two:

“After the fiddle that was Twitchhiker, you’re out to con the world once more! You don’t care about any charity except yourself.”

Gah. Twitchhiker didn’t begin life as a mission to raise money for charity, I was completely upfront about that from day one. The point was there wasn’t a single reason not to, and in the end we raised over £5,000 for Charity: water. We didn’t need to, the point is we could. This is no different. How do we raise money for charity? The trip is for two people, not one – see my comment on the previous post as one idea. If you’ve a better idea, let’s hear it.

Listen, I’d like to win this trip because I’m reasonably good at blogging, and I love to travel – more so since Twitchhiker. To combine both by undertaking an expedition to the Antarctic – that sounds like an extraordinary opportunity. But if getting behind one person means we create a second twitchhiker to join me and we raise money for charity, that’s ideal!

If you agree with the sentiment of either comment, then I’d suggest you read through the other entries. Make your own mind up. My personal opinion is that so far, the people leading this competition don’t necessarily make the most worthy case in their written entry. What they’re doing is fighting tooth and nail to win this through self-promotion. I don’t see why we can’t do the same.

Twitchhiker 2: Antarctica
02/07/2009, 17:29
Filed under: antarctica

Photo by gll on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Photo by gll on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Since the beginning of April I’ve been settling back into the normal, everyday, somewhat tedious state of being we refer to as real life.

I’ve got stuck into a few new ventures, caught up on my work to prevent the bank manager waving my mortgage deeds in my face and made a concerted effort to write a book about my trip. This has been hindered by the afore-mentioned bank manager and a previously unmentioned chest infection which lasted six weeks.

I’ve logged into Twitter from time to time, to say hello and answer messages from tweeps. I didn’t want to kill the project because I thought one day I’d find a way to use what we learnt from Twitchhiker for another scheme, or because I’d be able to return the favour to those that supported me.

And I have, I think, with two ideas.

The first is an idea for a new project that involves me going nowhere, everyone helping one another and the world becoming a better place, one tweet at a time. It’s an ambitious idea, and unlike Twitchhiker it has no end-date, so I’m wary of starting it and losing myself to Twitter as I did last time. I’m still picking up the pieces from those 30 days away.

The second idea involves you and I travelling together to Antarctica. And by together, I don’t just mean you sharing the experience through tweets and blog entries. I mean you being there by my side, at the end of the Earth.

Quark Expeditions is searching for an official blogger to join a voyage to Antarctica.

The trip is for two people.


I’ve entered the competition. I’d like you to vote for me. If I’m lucky enough to win, I’ll take one of you with me, whoever you happen to be.

Now you might be reading this and thinking why should that freeloader go on another trip around the world? And you’re right, you could enter yourself and see how you get on – there’s no reason you shouldn’t! But if we work together, you have my word that I’ll return the goodwill I was shown during Twitchhiker, and somebody who uses Twitter will be by my side. I also think there’s a way of raising thousands of pounds for charity in the process, just as Twitchhiker did. [see the comments for one possible way to do this]

So, to recap what’s in it for you: you get to laugh as I type until my fingertips fall off, one of our Twitter brethren takes part in the adventure with me, and we raise a pile of money for charity.

What’s in it for me? I don’t want to stop moving. It’s under my skin. What we did together with Twitchhiker was extraordinary, and I think we can do it again. Only this time, I’ll have company. I’m also curious to see if lightning can strike twice in the same spot.

If you want to support me, then you need to vote by going to the Quark Expedition website. Click Vote for Me below my picture. You need to register – it takes about 30 seconds or so – and you can opt-out after you’ve voted.

Any questions or thoughts, I’m sure you’ll let me know.