Accio Pottermore

Sunday morning, I watched the TweetDeck column, cordoned off by hashtag, explode with updates. “OMG I got in!!” “Where’s my email?!” “Registration is now closed, nooo!” I saw tweets in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian, and probably a few other languages I couldn’t have identified.

It was all for Pottermore.

The site is spending exactly one week — seven days for seven books — giving one million fans the opportunity to answer trivia for a chance to access the site early. Early adopters get to join a beta version of the site sometime in August and September; everyone else has to wait until October. By my calculation, about 142,000 registrations are allowed in any given day (a million spread out over seven days), and when that quota’s been filled, registration closes.

Despite going live when most of the U.S. should have been sleeping (about 9 a.m. in the UK, 4 a.m. on the East Coast), Pottermore registration lasted a little more than an hour before it closed. Fans who missed out have six more chances to get in.

What the project ultimately is remains to be seen. The site itself describes it as an “exciting new experience from J.K. Rowling based around the Harry Potter books.” (Editor’s quibble: Can something be based around something else?)

If you follow the publicity campaign, you’ll read that Pottermore will allow fans to have an interactive Potter experience. They can get wands, be sorted into houses and follow along with the books’ progression. The nitty gritty is still, of course, a mystery.

It got me thinking, though — if Pottermore is a success, might its model be adapted for other purposes? The main draw appears to be immersion in the story with other fans. But this is a fictional story — what if the subject matter was a long-term investigative reporting piece? Could this model represent an evolution from passive reading/viewing to active audience participation? Pottermore will definitely have a social media aspect. Could that be used in other models to mine data for reporting ventures? Could a Pottermore-like infrastructure turn into the next great crowd-sourced project?

I think journalists and social media managers would be wise to observe Pottermore’s evolution and apply what they learn to their own work. It’s untilled ground thus far, which makes it much more exciting.

It’ll be a few weeks before I can use Pottermore for myself and report back on what I find. Fortunately I managed to solve the clue and register for early access in time. One of my nerdier moments, if I may say so.

I’ll keep my username to myself for the moment, but here’s a clue: It works for both Harry Potter, and A Song of Ice and Fire. Double geekiness.

What’s Google+ waiting on?

Google+ is working on developing business/brand accounts, and asking businesses not to join the network yet. It seems reasonable on the surface, but it could easily backfire.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my first impressions of Google+. I liked it a lot then, and I like it now. I’m noticing, though, that there’s an unhappy trend in posts from people in my Circles. There’s a prevailing attitude of, “Well now what do we do?”

Some brands have managed to slip through. Pete Cashmore of Mashable has a personal Google+ profile that he’s now “winding down” in preparation for a Google+ branded account for Mashable. This is after Mashable’s original personal-esque account went on hiatus. It’s enough to give you whiplash.

Given the benefit of hindsight, I have to wonder if Google wouldn’t have been wiser to beta test branded accounts first, or in conjunction with the very first personal accounts. Waiting until the site has 20 million users before actively discussing branded accounts (and suspending many branded accounts masquerading as personal ones) is like opening a shopping mall with no stores.

A site like Facebook, which started out as personal and casual and only gradually migrated to a more business-friendly approach, is a different animal. The main draw of Google+, near as I can tell, was always the networking/professional aspect. Some people I follow or who follow me use it casually, but the vast majority of them post about technology, journalism and politics. Even the personal is professional.

We can always discuss such things on personal accounts, but if we can’t engage with “official” newspaper, TV station, magazine, business and news site accounts, what can that accomplish?

Google+ needs to present a clear and compelling reason for its existence and open up the personal-to-business channels, or it’ll be drowning in cat GIFs in six months for lack of anything else for people to do.

Your Social Media Strategy Here

Fertilizer-pushing is not my strong suit.

I’m deep, deep into the job hunt at the moment. When I apply for a position, I do my very best to use direct, plain language. If I describe an achievement or a milestone, I use tangible markers. Kansan.com saw increased site traffic and expanded multimedia content, and won a Pacemaker from the Associated Collegiate Press when I was the site’s managing editor. See how simple that was?

No mention of “humanizing the brand.” Or starting “organic conversations.” Or “leveraging influencers.”

Almost a year ago, I wrote about social media strategy with the same level of annoyance, and nothing has really changed.

How can we, as journalists, put such a high value on clear, concise language, while simultaneously clogging our CVs, “About” sections and job postings with rhetorical nonsense? If I read a job posting and can’t even figure out what my daily duties would be, I move on.

In my earlier post, I hypothesized that maybe we use vague language to describe social media because even we haven’t really figured it out yet. Or we want to seem indispensable. I grimace when I see anyone describe themselves as a “social media guru.” There is nothing spiritual about Twitter, I promise. If you’re that good, you don’t need to hide behind flowery language.

Ascribing some higher level of importance or even mysticism to social media ignores or downplays the stone-cold truth: If you link to quality content and reply to your audience respectfully and helpfully, you will gain and maintain followers. If you ignore queries or rarely tweet or spam people, you won’t. From the perspective of a company like Foursquare, successful branded accounts will post tips early and often and reward their followers with badges and possible merchandise discounts. Foursquare is, at its root, a game. So give your customers that experience.

I love editing. I love the ins and outs of journalism on the Web, and I love social media and what it can accomplish in terms of connecting people and spreading information. I love those things so much that I can call a spade a spade. I can say exactly what I do. I hope others can do the same.

Facebook lays a PR egg

I’ve had a Facebook profile since June (or was it July?) 2005, almost six years. When I joined, it was still novel, still just for university students and still largely text-only. The Farmville scourge was a speck of cosmic dust. If I recall, it was “the Xanga replacement,” and a way to keep tabs on where people were going to school and who was dating whom.

I still use Facebook daily, but it’s become much more of a grind and more about habit than enjoyment. Like many people, I’m wary of its business practices and how it handles privacy, but I also recognize its power of sheer numbers and organizational heft.

Even now, as it’s arguably in a moral decline, Facebook is nigh unrivaled. That makes the following story so baffling.

A Search Engine Watch story earlier today described how a guy named Michael Lee Johnson took out a Facebook ad, calling for Google+ followers. Shortly thereafter, his ad account was disabled and he received a note from Facebook citing vague violations of the site’s Terms of Use policy, but with no concrete explanation.

It’s true that Facebook’s policy mentions banning or disabling competitors’ ads, and on the surface, it seems reasonable. Many news sites, for example, ban links to competing sites in their comment sections. Upon examination, though, it was truly a dumb-as-rocks decision.

1. It had the opposite effect of what was intended. If the site had left it alone, Johnson’s probably would have been just another random, slightly distracting side ad. Facebook ceded the narrative when it axed the ad. Johnson likely gained more Google+ followers through publicizing the suspension than he would have if the ad had remained up.

2. Facebook showed its cards. The company has put up a public face of indifference and wry amusement in the wake of Google+. And frankly, publicly, that was probably appropriate. Even with a boom up to about 10 million members (a rough, unofficial approximation), Google+ still only has a little more than 1 percent of Facebook’s worldwide numbers. But in banning an ad for Google+ followers (not even a Google-bought ad), Facebook looks caught in the headlights and rattled.

3. Whatever merit the “competitors’ ads” argument has, I have a hard time believing that Johnson’s ad is any more ridiculous than ads for weight-loss pills, marriage counseling, divorce lawyers and numerous others I’ve seen. The company looks downright draconian and petty. Bratty, even.

4. Fortification solves nothing. Competitors often must cross paths and even share development and ideas. Without competition, there’s no innovation, no motivation to learn and get better. Apart from being a baffling move in public relations, it’s also a blown opportunity to learn more about an emerging player.

I added Johnson on Google+ as soon as I read about his ad. And you know what?

Dude’s pretty entertaining.

Show me your badges

Here’s a true story.

Last fall, I started using my Foursquare account more. I was very jealous of my friends’ badges, including a Cupcake Connoisseur badge from TLC. I wanted it (it was cute!). I found a couple of London bakeries on the TLC page and visited one the next time I went into London. That bakery was The Hummingbird, and I’ve been back multiple times since and I kind of want them to make my wedding cake if anyone’s crazy enough to ever actually marry me.

I never got the cupcake badge (it retired and I had eventually had to settle for Bravo’s Just Desserts badge), but the moral is simple: I sought out an entirely new business and became a repeat customer based on a circular graphic.

Foursquare badges are a lot of fun and I’d argue that they’re more satisfying to collect than mayorships (although I wouldn’t turn down 20% off at Starbucks). I have 39, and each one is a happy reminder — an ode to my coffee addiction, another trip to the cinema, a late night at the library, a day in London, airports on different sides of the world. They can mark an event — were you at the Colbert and Stewart rallies? Or access — so you got into five different SXSW parties? Or sheer dogged determination — 20 different pizza shops, really? And, I’d wager, no one has the same exact set as anyone else, apart from newcomers.

In the wake of Google+, Google announced a couple of days ago that you could start earning badges based on stories you’d read on Google News. I mentioned on Twitter that I loved badges and thought the idea was neat, and a New York Times interactive editor tweeted back to ask why.

I thought about it and replied back that it’s in our nature to hoard and collect. Foursquare badges (and soon-to-be Google News badges, I hope) are like digital postcards or keychains. They’re reminders of where we’ve been and what matters to us. You can tell a lot about someone from their badges: where they live, where they eat and shop, what brands they follow. As a committed anglophile eager for others to see the London that I see, I once wrote about how London could use Foursquare, and I stick by that still.

It can be easy to get consumed by social media, but Foursquare is brilliant in its mobility. It’s a social media app that necessitates breaking away from your computer cord and going out. Likewise, Google News badges reward you for expanding your knowledge and learning and reading about different things.

Are badges somewhat silly? Of course. Only a few Foursquare badges are ever linked to any tangible monetary reward. At the end of the day they’re just cute graphics on a profile. Will I keep having a blast earning them, and smile whenever I unlock a new one? Oh absolutely.

My Tumblr gets un-tumbled

For the better part of a year, I’ve had a Tumblr feed. For as long as I’ve had it, I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with it. I left it back in October, only to return to it a few days ago when my Google+ habits gave me some social media zest.

“I can make this work,” I thought. “I just need to figure out what to do with it.”

Successful Tumblrs, I’ve noticed, have a theme of some kind. My personal favorite lists hilarious things that kids have submitted as homework. Sadly it’s now on summer vacation. Many websites, newspapers and magazines have Tumblrs for content. Others exist to pass along artwork, recipes, videos and memes of all kinds.

I was determined to post my own work as much as possible, whether it was text, videos or photos, even if it took me a while to gain followers because I didn’t pass along Popular GIF #5638. I took inspiration from two of my friends’ blogs — Lauren’s and Jessica’s — and tried to let it come naturally.

Finally, earlier today, I made my decision. I’ll use my Tumblr to display my travel photography, and pair the photos with proverbs I deem thematically pertinent (or, you know, cool). I take many, many photos, but I’m not a photographer in any trained sense. Using my Tumblr to show them off seems like the perfect way to get them “out there” without needlessly duplicating any content from my Google+, Twitter or personal site (although my existing work on here will stay). It’s a simple pet project.

I’ve posted four photos total since deciding to take my microblog in this direction — I hope to add one or two every day — and it’s been fun selecting the photos and the quotes to accompany them.

I feel an odd sort of triumph that I’ve sorted out the formerly mystifying Tumblr. Even if I’m the only one who ever looks at it.

Stupid is as stupid tweets: Six tips for Twitter users

Yesterday, during a conversation with a good (non-journalist) friend, the talk steered toward the News of the World scandal and the Kansas City Star’s sacking of columnist Steve Penn for plagiarism. (Full disclosure: As discussed numerous times on this site, I interned with the Star last summer.)

He was angry about the NOTW’s alleged phone hacking, while I was flummoxed as to how any professional journalist could plagiarize in this era and expect not to get caught. The ending question was the same for both of us: How could anyone be so stupid?

Fast forward to this afternoon, when the BBC posted an updated list of social media guidelines. Included, verbatim, in the guidelines is the blunt advice, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

After laughing a little, I thought, “Well, what does that mean?”

The BBC guidelines suggest that its journalists should avoid overt partisanship on sites like Twitter, that any “official” tweets should be read by at least two people, and that “official” BBC personality profiles should be kept professional at all times.

The tips were common-sense enough, almost deceptively so. Social media — especially Twitter, but theoretically any such site — is fraught with potential mistakes and lapses in judgment. In print, your words go through an assignment editor, a slot editor, a rim copy editor and a proofreader. Any flagrant stupidity is, I hope, flushed out. If nothing else, there’s time to consider words and allow anger to cool off.

With Twitter, though, it’s easy to slip in a moment of hot-headedness. In 15 seconds, you could type and post something that you’ll regret for years. Journalists have been fired or asked to resign over tweets. So have spokespeople. Not to mention political candidates and public relations workers. Whether their terminations were justified is beside the point; their employers determined that their tweets were inappropriate to the point where they were sacked.

So how can you avoid this? How can you not “do anything stupid”?

1. If you tweet for your job, I’d consider having two separate profiles, a personal one and a professional one (example: @john_doe, @john_doe_kcstar). Many journalists I follow on Twitter have just one profile for both personal and professional use, and that’s fine. But it’s something to think about, especially if you’re new to Twitter or unsure about your company’s precise policies.

2. If you keep one all-purpose Twitter account, it’s worth using up biographic real estate to cover your butt. “RTs are not endorsements.” “A follow is not an endorsement.” “My opinions are my own.” Obviously this won’t be enough to save you if you’re flagrantly misusing Twitter, but it does create a conscientious wall between your personal views and your professional ones.

3. Avoid getting into Twitter spats with readers. I see far too many writers (a lot of them columnists) engaging in prolonged insult-fests with members of the public. A reasoned response or even a tart one-liner is probably fine. But it just looks childish if your feed is clogged with a back-and-forth argument. The longer it goes on, the angrier you’ll get and the likelier it is that you’ll say something stupid. Remember, if you’re arguing with an idiot, so is he.

4. For the love of all that is holy, know the difference between normal tweets and direct messages. Let’s not say that Anthony Weiner’s political downfall was in vain, yeah?

5. If you retweet anything — especially if it’s a photo or a link — make sure that it says or displays what you think it does. Never retweet anything blindly (I admit I’m guilty of this when I’m in a hurry). If you think you’re linking to a Times story, make sure you’re linking to a Times story. Nothing is more annoying and embarrassing than unknowingly retweeting spam or something else that’s inappropriate. In the same vein, if you’re following people and reporting on their tweets, make sure that what you’re following are their real accounts, and not parodies.

6. The adage that it’s better to be correct than first is true with Twitter as well. Before you fire off a tweet, edit yourself. Without a copy desk, the responsibility is even more on you to make a good decision. Let it sit for a few minutes, however long it takes. Is it something you’d say face to face with someone? Would you include it in a print or Web story with your byline? Does it target anyone based on religion, race or gender, even in jest? Does it contain profanity? When in doubt, don’t hit send.

Twitter at this point is an absolute necessity for journalists, politicians and most major companies, but it can be a double-edged sword. So tweet smart.

Google+ — a plus, or a minus?

It’s been about 32 hours since I accepted my Google+ invite, and I’m ready to give my initial reaction.

My signed-up friends — most of whom are former journalism school classmates — and I have used Google+ to debate the merits of Google+. How meta. One of my friends called it “Facebook built by the post-Facebook generation.” Others praised its cleanness and ease of use.

While I maintain a pretty far-flung social media presence, it’s rare that I join a platform this early on (although my Facebook account, from June 2005, is relatively ancient). So I thought I’d take advantage of that and offer up my impressions. Here it goes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • The design is remarkably clean and straightforward. It doesn’t have a signature “look” like Facebook just yet (although it dovetails well with Gmail, Reader, Docs and other Google goodies), but nor is it an eyesore like MySpace tended to be.
  • I love, love, LOVE the idea of circles. My friends’ opinions vary somewhat — some praise it, others think it builds walls needlessly. My one hangup with Twitter is that it’s hard to separate personal, non-DM replies to friends from more professional/serious tweets. With circles, you can easily keep professional items professional and personal items personal. You can do this with Facebook, too, but in my experience it’s a much bigger headache.
  •  It seems to take the best parts of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr and combine them. You’re free to shape your profile however you want — one of my friends is off and running with GIFs, others are sharing videos and photos and others are having conversations through status updates. It has a definite “it is what you make it” feel.
  • The simple yet aesthetically nifty way that Google+ displays photo albums is something I like, but I haven’t seen much said about it. Instead of cycling through individual photos in an album or seeing a wall of uniform thumbnails (like Facebook), photos are displayed with their cutlines in a crisp mosaic. Thumbs up.
  • I like the idea of Sparks, where you submit subject tags of interest (politics, economics, news, whatever) and receive a filtered newsfeed as a result. It’s nothing that Google Reader and a Twitter feed don’t already do, pretty much, but it’s nice having an in-platform option.
  • I’d like to see photo- and video-specific postings that allow URLs and not just file uploading. You can share online photos and YouTube videos, obviously, but as far as I can tell it’s treated like a generic post. Given Google’s ownership of YouTube, this is kind of awkward. EDIT: Google+ actually does allow for photo- and video-sharing using URLs. For some reason I was unable to locate it earlier, but it’s definitely there. Consider this shortcoming deleted.
  • The hangout feature, which is basically a sprawling video/chat meet-up (either planned or impromptu) has potential, but I confess I haven’t tried it yet. It looks like some outlets, like The Huffington Post, have used it already with some success.
  • Unlike Twitter (which allows one “official” URL) and Facebook (which buries them), Google+ lets you link to multiple personal and social media profiles, and displays them prominently on your page. I have links to this blog, my LinkedIn profile, my Tumblr, my Twitter and my Foursquare. Nifty.
  • The biggest complaint: so few people. With about 4.5 million users (last time I checked), Google+ has less than 1% of the registered users that Facebook does. It seems content to follow a pace of steady, gradually increasing growth. I think its real test will come when “normal” people — not journalists or technology enthusiasts — start migrating over, if they do. Google+ has to offer them something that they’re not getting with Facebook or Twitter. What that might be, I think, depends on the user. But Google+ can’t rely too much on exclusivity and being a journalistic utopia, or else it could easily go the way of Google Wave.
So there you have it. Frankly I’m pretty impressed, but only time will tell if the novelty can successfully segue into indispensability.

A note on News of the World

Last week, it broke that News of the World, a British tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, had allegedly hacked the phone of murder victim Milly Dowler. As the week progressed, more allegations came out. The hacking victims now allegedly included military families and July 7 attack victims, and there were whispers of possible police corruption. The scandal broke at a bad time for Murdoch, as he prepared to bid for a heavier share of BSkyB, a deal that now looks likely to fall through. Andy Coulson, Prime Minister David Cameron’s former communications director, is embroiled in the controversy, as is Rebekah Brooks, former NOTW editor. NOTW itself has formally stopped publishing.

Plenty of people, including members of Parliament and media rivals, have trashed NOTW for its legal and ethical violations. But in throwing the tabloid (I won’t call it a newspaper) under the bus, I think we’ve missed a real opportunity to evaluate NOTW’s actions and have a debate about how this actually affects the public’s trust in journalists.

Before it was closed, NOTW beat out the Guardian, Telepgraph and Independent in readership — a “red top” gossip sheet had a bigger audience share than Britain’s big three national (and respectable) newspapers. In this sense, NOTW’s tragedy (in terms of what it wrought, not its ultimate demise) is also a readership tragedy. What they peddled, sold well. Does the public have at least some ownership in this debacle, given its appetite for salaciousness?

Given the rabid nature of British tabloids, I perceive that it’s difficult here for journalists to command and maintain trust and respect. Many newspapers, if not most, have outright political leanings, which, to their credit, they make no attempt to hide. Even the BBC isn’t without controversy, whether it’s down to salaries or coverage. I imagine that it’d be frustrating for a legitimate journalist in Britain now, constantly being suspected of hacking, political hit jobs, bias, graft and who knows what else. The many may be tarred by the actions of a few. News International also represents, to many, a corporate infestation in the media. Of course all media is corporate in some sense, but  as Murdoch (who is not a British citizen) attempts to buy more and more information properties, the public and the government have legitimate concerns about his outsized influence in politics and culture.

The NOTW’s greatest crime, in the end, may be its devastating blow to the nation’s journalism profession and its integrity.

I’m reading “A Song of Ice and Fire”

When I’m not working on my dissertation, I’m barreling through George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. You may know it better as the basis for the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

I love it.

Even though I’ve been familiar with the series for a while, it took the television show to get me to read the books. The fifth novel, the long-awaited (for longer-term fans, that is) “A Dance With Dragons,” comes out next week. I decided to try to read the first four before then.

While the novels most definitely fall into “fantasy” territory — their entire world is fictional and includes magic and supernatural creatures — they stand out to me for two reasons. The first is their extreme realism, or as much realism as a fantasy series can get. They have a depth, a moral ambiguity and a complex social and cultural fabric that would be impressive in a mainstream fiction novel, let alone one in which virtually everything stems from the author’s imagination.

The second reason I love them is that they contain what I like to think of as a dog whistle for British history enthusiasts. It’s completely possible to read and love the series without ever thinking about its real-world parallels, but I loved reading it and picking out its historical counterparts. Martin based the series at least in part on the Wars of the Roses, and you can plainly see our own world history in the story.

  • Westeros, the continent on which most of the story unfolds, was originally settled by rural “children of the forest” and subsequently invaded by the First Men, Andals and the Targaryens. I interpreted these to be the Celts/Picts, Romans, Saxons and Normans, in that order. Like the Normans, the Targaryens came from an eastern landmass and brought their own language and culture. Like Aegon the Conquerer, William the Conquerer consolidated independent kingdoms and clans.
  • The southern kingdom of Dorne, the last to join the Seven Kingdoms, reminds me somewhat of Wales.
  • The brother-against-sister civil war in the series is a clear parallel to Matilda and Stephen in English history, and even had the same outcome (the brother defeated his sister, but her son succeeded to the throne).
  • Like the long Plantagenet line, the Targaryens ruled for several hundred years. A dynastic shake-up in the series that occurred roughly two generations before the novel’s present could be a parallel to Henry IV overtaking Richard II.
  • Robert Baratheon and his line appear to Yorkist, overthrowing their Lancaster/Targaryen cousins, and sending the surviving heirs into hiding/exile. By plotting her return to Westeros from across the Narrow Sea (i.e. the English Channel), Daenerys Targaryen reminds me of Henry VII.
  • Henry VI suffered from a mental breakdown, and though he never became murderous, it is easy to identify him with Aerys II Targaryen, the murdered Mad King.
  • Robert Baratheon is a clear Edward IV figure, a warrior-king who eventually fell into excess. His victories in the Trident, where he first won his crown, and against Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion remind me of Edward IV’s Towton and Tewkesbury.
  • Robert’s queen, Cersei Lannister, and their son, the eventual king Joffrey, appear to be a composite of Margaret of Anjou and Edward of Lancaster (Edward VI’s wife and son), and Elizabeth Wydville and Edward V (Edward IV’s wife and son). Like Margaret, Cersei is the real power behind the throne and “scheming.” Like Elizabeth, she’s protective of her children and has to contend with outside interests when her son becomes king. Like Edward of Lancaster, Joffrey’s parentage is suspect and he has violent, cruel tendencies. Like Edward V, he succeeds his father as king at a young age.
  • Robert’s brothers, Renly and Stannis, and Cersei’s, Tyrion and Jaime, display various aspects of Edward IV’s brothers, George and Richard. One is blamed for his nephew’s murder (Tyrion, like Richard) while two openly defy the line of succession (Renly and Stannis, like George and Richard). Another killed the previous king (Jaime, like George and Richard, allegedly).
  • Tywin Lannister is akin to Warwick the Kingmaker, in that his immense wealth sustains the crown, and his loyalties shift based on expediency. Mace Tyrell, a powerful lord whose daughter weds three kings in succession (like the Neville girls wed kings and/or heirs to the throne), is also reminiscent of Warwick.
  • The basic geography of Martin’s world is extremely similar to our own. Westeros is Britain on a larger scale, while Essos is the mega continent of Europe and Asia, and Southros is like Africa. The free cities of Essos are very similar to the duchies and city-states of Germany, France and Italy, while its eastern desert is like the Middle East and the mysterious Asshai is Asia (they even look/sound similar).
  • Northern Westeros is divided from the south by an ancient wall (similar to Hadrian’s), and is home to tribal groups that southerners consider socially inferior — a nod to the Scots. Like England, the Seven Kingdoms also have a distinct north/south dichotomy in terms of wealth and culture.
  • Finally, and perhaps most tragically, Ned Stark reminds me of William Hastings, Edward IV’s honorable friend who ended up on the wrong side after the king’s death and found himself short a head.

I’m sure that other similarities exist, but those are the principal ones. Other characters in the series, such as the Stark children, do seem to be relatively independent of exact historical parallels, but the groundwork is there, plain as day. That just makes it more interesting and adds a different perspective to the reading. Note that I’m not sure that those exact parallels are the ones Martin had in mind; they’re just what came to me as I was reading. The series is long and grueling in places — the third book, though the best, is also a beast — but well worth the time and energy for a great story. I can’t wait until next week when I can pick up the fifth book. And yes, I’m a geek.