New from Escalate: Salt

I’ve blogged about the Escalate Collective before; they’ve produced some pretty excellent critique and analysis.

After months of silence they’ve published a new – and much lengthier – response to the current politics. I’ve not got around to reading it all yet, but I anticipate great things.


Two post-event analyses of the #DEBill by me

As you might have seen in my previous
somewhat splenetic call to action
against the Digital Economy Bill the past few
weeks have been spent with my blood pressure rather high.

Perhaps out of therapy – or merely because
it’s offered a fascinating case study of how social media can be used to
potentially open up some form of direct democracy – I’ve pulled together a
couple of blog posts on the subject.

The posts broadly cover the use of social
media to campaign against the bill and the – I argue – ground-breaking way Twitter
was used to report the crucial debates in real-time as well as engage with
politicians mid-debate.

The first post was published over on We
Are Social's (i.e. my work's) blog
while the second was guest posted over at Royal Holloway University’s
New Political Communications Unit blog


Pros and cons of peer production in a nutshell

It's been a bit quiet around here lately. My apologies.

I've just discovered a rather interesting looking publication [pdf] from RAND Europe on the Future of the Internet Economy (via Ian Brown) and although I haven't read it all yet I came across a rather nice meaty section that spells out some of the pros and cons of using commons-based peer production to co-create knowledge and other informational public goods.

I thought I'd save it here for future reference and sharing:

Governments may also find that opening up their processes, sharing public information, and actively engaging citizens to take an interest in the public (virtual and real) space leads to ownership and shared responsibilities.

An important value will be how responsibility is allocated and assumed, and how accountability is established in a time where processes become collective endeavours. Mass collaboration and voluntary agreements provide good approaches for innovative development processes, drawing on the knowledge and talent of many.

However they lack effective decision making capabilities, quality control and the endorsement (certification) of the outcomes, thus potentially leading to instability and uncertainty about the quality and value of the process outputs. Peer review, ranking, karma points and the like, are expected to fulfil some of this function but are easy to manipulate and are not evidence based.

**UPDATED** Ofcom: remind me what it’s for again?

I'm sorry. What's the point of Ofcom again? I'm sure it plays a valuable role regulating something but it seriously doesn't get the internet does it?

I am blown away by the sheer mind-numbing stupidity of today's report (which the BBC seems to be slavishly re-gurgitating without question.

According to Ofcom, the UK is one of the "world's most advanced countries in terms of digital communications". Why might you ask? Is it because we amazing broadband speeds? Is it because we have cloud wifi covering major cities?

No. It is because – and prepare yourselves for this – we, as a nation:

  • spend more time watching TV than other countries
  • send more texts than other countries
  • leads the world in online advertising (WTF??)

This blows me away. It really does. Call me a cynic but the reasons given hardly amount to anything substantial or even coherent (texts,TV, online ads?).

But what if you were a government trying to push through an insanely authoritarian bill that will curtail free, public use of the internet. You might want to convince the public that Britain is a great digital nation, thus giving the impression they can be trusted to make the right decisions.

It's not as if the report is independent. It's by Ofcom, a government body. The same body who will likely gets lots of money and power from enforcing the draconian laws in Peter Mandelson and the music industry's  Digital Economy Bill.

Sorry to harp on, but the report (or at least the BBC's coverage of it) sounds hollow. While it may be purely coincidence, given the nightmare of Mandelson's Digital Economy Bill which will certainly push us down any real global measure of 'digitalness' I can't help wonder if the two are connected.

**UPDATE** The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones tells me via Twitter that it's a just "a bunch of stats" Ofcom release every year. So it's more likely that it's a crappy news angle for a press release rather than anything sinister.

This is an important announcement…

Those that know me may be surprised that I haven't yet blogged about the government's appalling behaviour to take a fat wad of cash from the music industry in return for turning a blind eye to the amazing power the internet is bringing every facet of humankind and instead amending British law so that we can all take a giant leap backwards in terms of digital rights.

This is purely done to ensure that the UK's moronic entertainment industry executives get to keep their fucking enormous salaries until they retire, upon when they can also cash in their even more enormous fucking pensions.

But that's not all: in case the government wasn't sure that this is a totally fucking stupid idea that might cost them votes, they're also criminalising young people (some might say the electorate of the future), potentially breaching individuals' universal human rights and into the bargain Lord Mandelson has also opted to award himself the personal power to amend copyright laws willy-nilly with the barest minimum of parliamentary oversight.

This (and a whole lot more evilness, such as the loss of free public wifi) is wrapped up in a nifty Bill announced in last month's Queen's Speech called the Digital Economy Bill.

If you want the biggest, most hilarious of laughs, take a look at what I predicted and indeed hoped might be in the Bill when the initial consultation phase was announced last year.

Here's what really happened:

  1. Lord Carter appointed to consult on Digital Britain 
  2. Lord Carter speaks with various people and turnsout a not-perfect but very respectable white paper
  3. Lord Carter moves on
  4. Digital Britain progresses
  5. Lord Mandelson meets David Geffen and host of other music industry chiefs
  6. Lord Mandelson reverses pretty much everything that made sense in the original white paper and announces plans to turn himself into the Digital Witchfinder General

Your help is needed…

Here's what you can do now to help:

  1. Join the Open Rights Group (disc: I'm on the board) to help them lobby for sanity to be amended back into the bill and protect your future online rights
  2. Sign the Downing Street petition, signed by the likes of Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan, and loads others
  3. Adopt your MP to make sure they know about the insanity of what the Digital Economy Bill will inflict on the public

We need your help *NOW* – Mandelson is adamant that the Bill gets passed before they lose the chance to fuck us all up by shutting down the internet. Please take on one of the actions aboce and help spread the word by Tweeting, emailing or Facebooking this post.

Thank you.

Three quarters of people would switch to alternative free news if Rupert Murdoch has his way


Since Murdoch made his announcement about pushing for pay-walled content on his titles there's been a lot of discussion about how the future of online content is 'paid for'.

Well, frankly I don't buy it (literally) and thankfully PaidContent:UK has come up with some research that proves the wider public also don't want to buy it either.

According to a write up in the Guardian, PaidContent's research shows that

If … favourite news site begins charging for access to content, three quarters of people would simply switch to an alternative free news source…

  • Just 5% of those readers would choose to pay to continue reading the site.
  • 8% would continue reading the site's free headlines only.
  • 12% of respondents are not sure what they would do.

I really hope this is an accurate representation of how the battle for paid for vs free content plays out.

The risk, of course, is that several major news sources follow Murdoch into paid-for content limiting the offering of free content.

But then I suppose that's why Murdoch and his minions/family are targeting the BBC so vehemently. As long as the BBC continues to serve up quality news courtesy of the license fee then surely his paid-for business model fails.

But then thinking about it, even if Murdoch succeeds in getting the mainstream BBC locked up, what happens to BBC World Service. It's 100% funded by the British Government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office – so surely this outlet will continue to deliver quality, state-sponsored broadcasting?

Tags: paidcontent, Rupert Murdoch, BBC

Crowd-sourcing the future of media

One of the things I [heart] about the internet is its ability to totally democratise the production and distribution of knowledge and information.

Reading George Monbiot's (somewhat difficult to follow) analysis of the relationship between the media, editorial independence and advertising in a recent Guardian column, I thought: "Wow. Well, that's complicated. What's the solution?".

Well, it turns out the solution wasn't too far away. Several comments down in fact. By a man called Graham Wayne.

I won't try to summarise or precis his response. I'm just going to re-post.Lazy, you say? Well, it's too good not to. 


am moved by your candid argument to respond – and we should acknowledge
the Guardian for giving you the space – and yet for the first time in
many threads I am, frankly, quite perplexed by the commercial paradox
you identify.

There are some alternatives, but none of them are
entirely satisfactory or perhaps commercially practical. Some are not
consistent with the ethical requirements you describe and with which I
broadly agree. But in the first place, let us enjoy for a moment the
irony of taking money from the airlines, the automotive industry and
their ilk, in order to sponsor an MSN outlet that consistently
criticises them and pays for people like you to do so. It does sweeten
the pill a little, but perhaps not enough.

Some suggestions then
– not so much as things I think can be done, but as catalysts that
might lead to constructive discussion and better solutions than I can

1) Recent news suggests that some quality MSN websites
will attempt to institute subscriptions. If the Guardian moved in that
direction but limited advertising according to content that met
published ethical standards, it would make subscription more
meaningful. I would pay to support a news site that placed ethical
behaviour at the core of its business model, because that is exactly
what I find is virtually absent from commercial concerns, and much to
our detriment both as consumers and members of society.

2) Try
such a scheme as an alternative site and trial it for a reduced sub in
the first year. If it took off, move the enterprise in that direction
and reward those early supporters with a discount on the second year –
or something.

3) Ban only the ads that meet the ethical standard.
This is not a moral exercise but a commercial one, but where virtue is
rewarded. Ethical standards should be applied to products or services,
not companies per se, and when certain products enjoy more ad space
than their counterparts, their importance to the companies that produce
them shifts in their favour, simply because they sell more. Advertising
usually targets the consumer, attempting to modify their behaviour;
here advertising could target the companies and do the same. It is in
the boardroom that this message needs to be understood – the market is
changing and ethical behaviour will be rewarded by consumers. (And when
it's all hat and no cattle, you have new fodder for the column).

Develop more flexible price strategies and find more innovative ways to
deliver the adverts. Perhaps a rate card with weighted price bands
depending on gross revenue, where smaller and more ethical concerns can
also take some space in the paper or the site, thus increasing
opportunities for ad sales. I suggest this because I think taking the
ethical stance will cost the Guardian some revenue. Quite how much it
loses is in part dependant on the ad sales team, because there is also
a strong marketing advantage in the ethical stance, especially if the
Guardian is the first to adopt is. Very newsworthy, and worth
trumpeting in any ad campaign. It must also be true that properly
exploited, there may be some additional market share to be gained
through it, so it's not all downside.

5) Keep discussing the
option of going completely digital. I'm sure this is discussed and the
Guardian management understand this much better than I, but there are
important implications for the environment as well as the economics. It
must include a subscription, but that has benefits since it would
probably be annual or semi-annual, which is more reliable income than
variable sales of print copies. (I'd like to see the management's
thoughts on this. Things change, as the Guardian demonstrates with this
very site. Where are they now on this?)

Prudence would dictate
money will be lost, so the Guardian must ask the same question it does
over page 3 girls: what is it prepared to do in service of Mammon
rather than its founders like Scott? Tits are out of bounds, yet they
would bring in more money, as would the sex trade ads, but the Guardian
has taken a moral stance at the expense of profit. Morality cannot be
parcelled out or striated by expediency. Either the Guardian is wholly
responsible and doesn't want to assist in destroying civilisation, or
it may as well start looking for busty women and brainless men to leer
at them, since that readership will always put their hands in their
pockets – if you know what I mean.

Good isn't it? I hope the Guardian's Emily Bell sees this and takes some of Graham's points further.

Tags: Guardian, George Monbiot, future of the media, Emily Bell, advertising

Locking down the future and what you can do to help

As a communicator with an understanding of the Internet, I’d always advise my clients that the web is fundamentally changing the ways we communicate, consume and produce media and culture and in order to survive (or at least stay relevant) they need to adapt.

Similarly, the web is making findamental changes in almost every other industry touched by society and culture and ditto they must adapt to maintain relevant in the networked world – both now and in the future.

However, when it comes to the music, film and entertainment industries it seems that they are investing heavily in preserving the past, rather than acknowledging where the future will lie.

Sadly, one result of this is a horribly flawed EU Directive which proposes doubling the current term on music copyright.

This action is opposed by all of Europe’s leading intellectual property research centres and makes little economic, technological or cultural sense. But don’t take my word for it. The UK-based Open Rights Group (disclosure, I volunteer time to support ORG) has produced this nifty little video explaining the issues at stake.

Having just finished Lawrence Lessig‘s Remix (review to follow) this is a major issue which not only risks atrophing the economy but also criminalises the next generation of artists/creators.

You can add your support in the following ways:

  1. Invite your MEP to attend the 27 January event on your behalf (you can get their contact details here: UK residents; Other EU residents)
  2. 3) Invite your MEP to sign the Sound Copyright petition
  3. 4) Ask your MEP to watch the Open Rights Group’s cartoon “How copyright term extension in Sound Recordings actually works”

Happy 2009 (unless the government gets in the way)


As a rule I try not to 'do' predictions or resolutions at New Year. But I thought I'd flag how the UK Government plans to not only resurrect it's data intercept modernisation programme, but to outsource it as well, according to the story in today's Guardian.

Personally, I find the route down which our digital rights are being taken in the UK extremely worrying especially given the much more progressive and sustainable direction being taken in the US by Obama's incoming administration.

On the cards for 2009 we have the revised plan for the data intercept modernisation programme (being driven by the security and intelligence agencies), Lord Carter's Digital Britain initiative (any info anyone?) and plans to take a tougher approach on copyright/file-sharing.

Ironically, the latter two also present major opportunities to kick-start the UK economy if handled correctly. But let's wait and see shall we…

Happy New Year to all and here's to a prosperous 2009!

Technorati tags: UK Government, Data Intercept Modernisation Programme, Digital Britain, 2009

Chinwagging tonight

Whoops – I meant to post about this in advance but clearly I have to organise my time better.

I'll be on the panel tonght at Chinwag's event: Xmas Futures, Crystal Balls? discussing, um, I guess, what 2009 will bring.

Others speaking on the panel include:

  • Neville Hobson – blogger, communicator, digital luminary
  • Jonathan Mitchener – Futurologist & Principal Research Scientist, Devices, BT
  • Jamie Coomber – Head of Digital Strategy, Profero

I'll be bringing up the issues of the economy, the perennial echo of "next year will be *all about* digital, the direction a lot of digital PR and marketing seems to taking compared to the route I believe it should be and how this leads my thinking right up to Doc's vision of the "end of the social bubble."

Hopefully see some people there.

Technorati tags: Chinwag, Future watching, Crystal balls