New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, March 10

Does Your Copy Hold Up To A Quick Glance?

Digital Web Magazine.

Does Your Copy Hold Up To A Quick Glance?

By Jessica Neuman Beck

Published on February 20, 2007

Quick—what does your site’s copy say about you?

Make sure your graphics are proportionate to the rest of the body text. Huge images that take up most of the screen not only convey very little about the subject, they also keep readers from your content. Don’t assume that everyone will scroll below the fold.

Take a look at your stats, and you’ll see that a surprising number of the visits to your site last less than a minute. Sure, some of those may be bots or search engines, but real visitors are making decisions about your site in the time it takes to blink.

A Canadian study published in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology suggests that viewers form an opinion of your website in about a twentieth of a second.


Luanne Seymour from Adobe describes the average site scanner’s methodology in this way:

  1. Scan the headlines to see what the content is about.
  2. Look at the pictures to see what the content is about.
  3. If the pictures are compelling, read the captions.
  4. If the headlines, pictures, and captions are compelling, read the rest of the copy—if I have time.

What works?

  • Pull quotes
  • Blurbs
  • Icons
  • Linkage
  • Lists

What doesn’t work?

  • Ads
  • Animation.
  • Inconsistency

Britain's Tories love open source (true)

George Osborne speaking in 2006The Register

Britain's Tories love open source (true)
All aboard the Osbornesource bandwagon!
By Mark Ballard
Published Friday 9th March 2007
George Osborne, Britain's shadow chancellor of the exchequer, has stuck the Conservative Party's banner firmly on the internet bandwagon.
Speaking at the Royal Society of Arts yesterday, he applauded the "democratisation of information" brought about by the internet.

... just trying to find a copy of the speech on the web ... la de dah ..

owh Looking at bit "Father Ted' in this pic (right), George. Yelling at me from the centre of the page is:
From my website you can use the links on the right of this page to visit the Conservative Party website and the Parliamentary website for access to records of debates in the House of Commons.
not sending me to theyworkforyou for your parliamentary record, eh George?

More Register
"We need to harness the internet to help us become more accountable, more transparent and more accessible - and so bridge the growing gap between government and governed," he said.
However, one Open Source guru who is advising Osborne told The Register that he couldn't speak to us on the record for fear of losing his new-found links to power. It was too great an opportunity for the Open Source movement to pass up, he said.
on to ...

and we find what he's really after (it's the lead story) ...
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has promised that an incoming Conservative government would create a level playing field for open source software in the UK, in a move which could save taxpayers more than £600 million a year.
'Democracy' doesn't get a mention. Oh, and ever heard the phrase 'total cost of ownership' George?

Here's the whole speech. (it's also published in the telegraph)

"we need to rethink the way public services work" "MySpace" (owh, he's Maaates with them too). "How many people here are friends with Tom Anderson? [MySpace founder, right, on the cover of Fortune]" — George, take a ticket: 'Tom has 161875396 friends' — "Howard Dean" "I do look forward to seeing WebGordon." "Wikipedia"

he does big-up Wikinomics, and mentions:
The Patient Opinion website, a social enterprise set up by a Sheffield GP, is already demonstrating what can be achieved.

Patients are using the website to post accounts of their experiences of the NHS - both positive and negative.

These are then forwarded to the relevant hospital or clinic, which can respond, triggering "microconversations" about the quality of care and service that often result in changes being made.

The effect is to create a real-time exchange of qualitative data on public experience, from seemingly trivial issues like the lack of clear signs to bigger issues, like poor quality outpatient care.
but he doesn't follow-through with this. He's straight back to savings.

Imagine, George, a comments? field on every government website page.




*Have a look at this - 14 November 2006, 'Politics and Media In An Internet Age' - using exactly the same words, he's off passionately declaring his luv for Tom Anderson:
"I went all the way to Los Angeles last year to meet him"

"He's 30 years old. His interests are music, movies and – bizarrely – the history of Communism. His favourite bands include Superdrag and the Sex Pistols, and Lawrence of Arabia is one of top films."
It must be love - and all thanks to the Internet!

I can relate, George. In a meeting to discuss Litter only the other day you should have heard the rustling of pens when I mentioned MySpace. Practically everyone made a note.

Only trouble is, George, that in constantly bigging up MySpace you're ignoring it's very sucessful UK Competitor, Bebo.

Bebo overtakes MySpace in the UK

Now I can kindof understand why founder Michael Birch (pictured right) may not be as ... er, glamorous as Mr Anderson but y'know.. quick makeover... and he's British, George.

But could Michael's self-proclaimed tastes provide a clue to George's disinterest?
Lilly Allen, Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Beatles
Napoleon Dynamite, Run Lola Run, Sexy Beast
English International Soccer
Guinness, Old Peculiar, London Pride
Far too butch?

So. The problem with speeches like this from politicians like Osbourne? Too fan-like. Get a grip. Be honest about your bewilderment.

Big up the right things (how about going to see crusty and balding Jacob Nielsen, George? Although his Favourite Film doesn't appear to interest anyone, he has commented on Usability in the Movies).

What he chooses to mention reflects the information he's getting, as well as where he's sourcing it. But this alongside the mis-reading (i.e. ignoring Bebo) — which seems to be a consistent theme coming out from very senior people (Varney thinks Amazon is bigger than eBay in the UK) making very important decisions getting god knows what advice — is more than annoying.

Choosing one buzz over another buzz [Nielsen: Hyped Web Stories Are Irrelevant] often reflects a mis-reading of web developments (Amazon has a different business model to eBay, Amazon perhaps being closer to the traditional retail model, hence maybe more comprehensible).

Simply because of the pace by which those decisions filter through the bureaucracy, we end up failing to follow through with new developments (ironically, the sorts of ones politicians seem to love).

This leads to things like what we're doing now - focussing on Portals rather than Search, directing people somewhere using outmoded methods rather than capturing them where they are or *something a bit more sophisticated!

Things like the Sheffield Patient Opinion site use simple, very basic, very usable (*crucial), resources and from a low-base hopefully become ubiquitous. They grow organically out of the web, they're not imposed on it.

Lots of small, cheap projects like this, freed of bureaucratic restraint but with very clear basis such as governance and standards would do wonders and would likely generate some really big new ideas.

Here's PatientOpinion's
What is this about?

Patient Opinion is all about enabling patients to share their experiences of health care, and by doing so help other patients — and perhaps even change the NHS.

As well as allowing everyone to see what patients are saying about their services, it also offers a way to feed the experience of patients back to the NHS so that their insights and ideas can be put to good use.
Wikinomics, indeed. Although I am heartily sick of "enabling".

We can dream. This sort of thing has been promised for years (and lots of innovation lingers unloved in repositories) but it always seems to boil down to a search for savings rather than a search for innovation.

What 'they' don't seem to have grasped is what people like real entrepreneurs have, which is that out of the innovation you get great benefits, including 'savings' (which are really better allocated resources). Rather than the other way around.

'Let 1million flowers bloom' (or some-such) would have been a better message, George.

Democrats drop Fox News

Fox attacks Obama

The Huffington Post | Melinda Henneberger |

The Nevada Democratic Party today backed out of a FOX News-sponsored presidential debate after Fox President Roger Ailes's recent remarks jokingly comparing Democratic Senator Barack Obama to al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

In a joint letter faxed today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tom Collins, the head of the Nevada Democratic Party, informed Fox News executive producer Marty Ryan of the decision.

"A month ago, the Nevada Democratic Party entered into a good faith agreement with FOX News to co-sponsor a presidential debate in August,'' Reid and Collins said in the letter. "This was done because the Nevada Democratic Party is reaching out to new voters and we strongly believe that a Democrat will not win Nevada unless we find new ways to talk to new people. To say the least, this was not a popular decision. But it is one that the Democratic Party stood by.''

"However, comments made last night by FOX News President Roger Ailes in reference to one of our presidential candidates went too far,'' the letter went on. "We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments. In light of his comments, we have concluded that it is not possible to hold a Presidential debate that will focus on our candidates and are therefore canceling our August debate. We take no pleasure in this, but it is the only course of action.''

FOX ATTACKS - The tactics of Fox News

Doonesbury's interview with Rupert Murdoch about Fox (Faux) News


NationMaster is another new feed I've added, done via a Google gadget.

The site says that iIt's "To promote education and understanding about the world" — but it was inspired by the CIA Factbook.

A very sophisticated and quite usable database, about every country. An encyclopedia section (which is WikiPedia) and a forum, plus comments on each page, which with the scant criticism:

It briefly had a category on sex, which compared sexual behaviors by country, based on poll responses, but this was quickly removed.
suggests it's kosher + quite useful..

Statistics > Female parliamentarians by country:

Scatterplot: Democracy > Female parliamentarians vs Food > Coffee consumption:

New feeds / Design of future things

Added some new feeds.

The e-Government Resource Centre in Victoria, Australia produces a good International round-up, if PR heavy
The Register, nma and Revolution are UK New Media press. is another (self-explanatory) prime source. Dan Gilmor is a Silicon Valley vet. Shorewalker is the blog of David Walker, who writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. ClickZ is a Net Marketing goldmine. Wired is the Californian, utopionist mag inspired by Marshall McLuhan.

And Don Norman is Jacon Nielsen's mate.

The Design of Future Things

Norman, D. A. (2007). The Design of Future Things. New York: Basic Books. (Expected publication date is November, 2007.)
Drawing by Alison Wong [above right]. This is a placeholder for the real cover which is being designed by the publisher.

Draft Table of Contents:

(Please do not tell me about typographical errors -- these are drafts and will be rewritten and copyedited. Suggestions about content and corrections of factual errors are welcomed. Mail to jnd at

1. Cautious Cars and Cantankerous Kitchens: How Machines Take Control (A PDF document)
2. Servants of our Machines
3. The Psychology of People & Machines
4. The Role of Automation
5. Natural Interaction
6. Six Rules for the Design of Smart Things
7. The Future of Everyday Things
8. Afterward: The Machine's Point of View. Afterward Excerpt: How to talk to people (A pdf document)

From except: We machines come from a very different world than people. It isn't easy to
communicate with them: People take suggestions as criticism and get
defensive, and sometimes angry. They misinterpret our utterances, they ignore
us, or they overreact. Sometimes we just can't win.

Five Rules of Communication from Machines to People
  1. Keep things simple.
  2. Always give people a conceptual model.
  3. Give reasons.
  4. Continually reassure.
  5. Make them think they are in control
People have difficulty with anything complicated and they don't like to listen.
So make the message short. It's better not to use language. It takes too long
and, anyway, human language is horribly ambiguous. Use "natural"
communication systems. Basically, don't make people work to understand
things – make it immediately obvious – hence, "natural.".

Friday, March 9


Interesting debate going on on a Board which local gov web people like moi use.

These people

have produced this

Neighbourhood Fix-It (no logo yet)

which aims to:

help people report, view, or discuss local problems they’ve found to their local council by simply locating them on a map. It launched in beta early February 2007.
MySociety are the people responsible for the Number Ten online petitions. Their early win was when they forced Hansard to let them scrape parliament information for TheyWorkForYou. Thereby allowing all of us to keep tabs on what our elected representatives are up to.

So what was the reaction when the founder of MySociety,
Tom Steinberg, popped up on the Board to ask for feedback @ soft-launch on the Beta?
There does seem to be something of a theme running through some of these responses. 'could you people please stop making our life more difficult?' does that sum it up?
Was my summation. (I'm not posting the words of others as it's a board for us only).

But I can see why. This was summed up in a more generalised moan about the job. All true. "Another thing we have to consider!"

However the particular complaints do represent a - how to put this delicately - disconnect from the reality of the web.

this is one of the main things holding back eGov.

the reality is that neighbourhoodfixit is both fabulous (+ usable) and of great benefit to eGov and local councils in particular.

One of the moans related to misfiring emails. Well, you could take advantage of that by, for example, using email auto-responders, to:
  1. promote the website and what people can do on it, including directing them to forms, which greatly smoothes back-end processes (+ you could identify that neighbourhoodfixit sent you these people)
  2. use some of thesort tools now available to filter the email and then deal with the email.
If you also explain that email which isn't sent by the preferred route will be dealt with more slowly because they're doing it the non-standard way, customers will be far, far more likely to:
  1. be impressed by this swift and precise answer
  2. use local government web services
  3. use the web to report neighbourhood issues
Most people accept acceptable delays from us and from business if they're properly explained. n'est ce pas?

They're sending us new customers, basically. Costs very little. Big potential gain.


In discussing neighbourhoodfixit a site set up by a cycling organisation to report potholes in the road was mentioned. This was very good (it said) in directing you to the right person.

Great. Trouble is that potholes are already covered elsewhere on the web, and not always benignly.

Type "report pothole" into Google and an ad for comes up. This is run by Warranty Direct ( - a quite astonishing site) and has 'How to claim' as a prominent option.

This isn't all:

We have competition.

Reaction to Coulter's slur hints at shift in view of gays

Ann Coulter's use of an anti-gay slur has caused a furor....Reaction to Coulter's slur hints at shift in view of gays

Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2007

When conservative commentator Ann Coulter called former Vice President Al Gore a "total fag" on national television nearly a year ago, it barely caused a stir.

Coulter's recent labeling of presidential candidate John Edwards as a "faggot," however, has triggered a huge response, including a campaign initiated today by a gay rights group and media watchdog to persuade mainstream media outlets to dump her for good.


Dan Savage, editor of the Stranger, a Seattle alternative news weekly, and author of several books on his life as a gay man, said the reaction to Coulter could indicate a change in how people view gays.

"I always thought we would be reaching a tipping point with anti-gay hate where it will no longer be acceptable, and maybe we are reaching that tipping point now," said Savage.


[Savage] started a public humiliation campaign against former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican, after Santorum made derogatory statements about gay men.

Henry Rollins: A Love Letter To Ann Coulter

Thursday, March 8

Mobile Content Usage is Higher in Developing Countries

Click Z Stats: Wireless

Mobile Content Usage is Higher in Developing Countries

By Enid Burns | March 2, 2007

Mobile users in third world countries express a stronger desire for content and advanced features, according to a "Global Mobile Mindset Audit" study released by the Forum to Advance the Mobile Experience (FAME), part of the CMO Council and Global Market Insight (GMI), and sponsored by Palm.

U.S. users lag most behind other countries in terms of accessing the Web, or wanting access, using cellular phones. In the U.S., 22.6 percent find the feature important or very important. Other countries exhibit higher demand: Western Europe (30.4 percent); Eastern Europe (53.9 percent); Asia (56.4 percent); and Latin America (63.5 percent).

"The difference between developing countries and the U.S. and Western Europe really is played out throughout the survey in terms of advanced services and how interested users are in accessing them," said Dave Murray, director of the CMO Council's FAME Group. "The new mobile power user is really in emerging markets. There is a population in these markets that is interested in using and willing to pay for advanced services."

In some cases, mobile services can compensate for a lack of infrastructure in phone and Internet services, as well as in other areas. One example Murray cites is a demand for mobile network banking access.

"In India there is a lack of an established consumer ATM network," said Murray. "The idea of a lack of infrastructure goes beyond communications, lack of infrastructure in banking, commerce, and entertainment, which is leaving users in developing countries to rely more heavily on mobile devices."

The study also finds a sense of "function fatigue," where consumers either do not use or understand all handset or service features. Criteria for useful and useless functions on a handset differ by customer. "The whole issue around function fatigue has a lot to do with how easy and intuitive a device might be," said Murray. "There are features they don't actually know how to use. I think that's exacerbated by the retail experience."

The retail experience is another pain point. Globally, consumers complain about a lack of in-store demonstrations, knowledgeable sales staff, and slow service. Point-of-purchase differences have emerged between the U.S. and elsewhere. U.S. consumers rely on in-store displays and literature, where international buyers use the knowledge of retail sales associates and editorial reviews. Outside the store, the Internet is the leading source for product and service information, surpassing print, TV, and word-of-mouth.

The data come from findings from a GMI study of 15,000 consumers in 37 countries. Surveys were conducted in the native languages of each country.

From Matatu to the Masai via mobile
Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason travels through Kenya using a map of the country's mobile phone networks as his guide.

"How big a change have cellphones made to Africa?" I shout the question at Isis Nyong'o, over the throbbing bassline of a Kenyan ragga track. She tells me calmly: "It's had about the same effect as a democratic change of leadership."

A user-centred approach to creating new mobile phone services

(requested citation) Ismael Peña-López (2006) “World Telecommunication/ICT Development Report 2006: digital divide narrowing?” In ICTlogy, #32, 2006. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month 08/03, 2007 from


This is fun - the pix, not the industry talk

Wednesday, March 7

How to do a Google Maps mash-up in five easy steps

From gmapsmania — I am sooo reminded of Tool Time watching this segment. :}

who's obsessed by 'sex'?

Interesting result from a Google trends search on "sex"

TURKISH TOWN BANS MALE-MALE KISSES: 01-Sep-94: "The southern town of Adana, Turkey, put up posters announcing a ban on public male-male kissing Aug. 23, reported the Reuters news agency. Authorities said male-male kisses are unsanitary. Inexplicably, male-female and female-female kissing are still permitted. "It is unhygienic for two men to bring their cheeks together in Adana’s summer heat of 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit)," said city spokesman Zeki Eker. "Just imagine what could happen with all that sweat. Besides, it is against our religion".

Gay Pakistan-A Complex Society: Three native Pakistani men write about living inside their sexually ambivalent culture where gay men live behind masks and love in secret. There is a gay subculture in Pakistan but it is virtually invisible and exists only by word of mouth and in furtive situations--in nighttime parks, discrete parties and in one's imagination or memory. Internet liaisons and clandestine boyfriends are typical of the 'scene' in this Muslim country. Curiously, Pakistani law appears to tolerate male-to-female transgenders/cross dressers (hijras) and it is generally safe to be so

Here's "sex" vs "yahoo"

How do the Cities, Regions, and Languages tabs work?

When the Cities tab is selected, Google Trends first looks at a sample of all Google searches to determine the cities from which we received the most searches for your first term. Then, for those top cities, Google Trends calculates the ratio of searches for your term coming from each city divided by total Google searches coming from the same city. The city ranking you see on the page and the bar charts alongside each city name both represent this ratio. When cities' ratios are fairly close together, the corresponding bar graphs will be roughly the same length, and the exact ranking between these cities is less meaningful.

The Regions and Languages tabs work just like the Cities tab. Google Trends uses IP address information from our server logs to make a best guess about where queries originated. Language information is determined by the language version of the Google site on which the search was originally entered.

Keep in mind that instead of measuring overall interest in a topic, Google Trends shows users' propensity to search for that topic on Google on a relative basis. For example, just because a particular region isn't on the Top Regions list for the term "haircut" doesn't necessarily mean that people there have decided to stage a mass rebellion against society's conventions. It could be that people in that region might not use Google to find a barber, use a different term when doing their searches, or simply search for so many other topics unrelated to haircuts that searches for "haircut" make up a very small portion of the search volume from that region when compared to other regions.

Found: Invest in the future

Found some more old stuff (I thought I'd completely lost it but found it in a web back-end, kindof like behind the dumpster, under something unmentionable ..)..

I used to edit a magazine for people living with AIDS in Sydney. I got very involved, as you do, and the whole experience was painful/joyful. I wrote, basically, a diatribe after I was ignored in an 'anniversary' edition after i left. as you unfortunately do. enough said.

anyway. it had some good stuff, still relevant I think in describing something of what the net can do for communities.

Cast of characters:

ACON is the big HIV/AIDS organisation in New South Wales
Talkabout is the magazine I edited.
PLWHA = people living with HIV/AIDS

Section from unpublished article, November 1998

(Suggestion Two): Invest in the future - Get Talkabout and the whole kit and caboodle onto the Internet.

It was searching for HIV/AIDS treatments info to put into Talkabout that actually got me using the net (now it's my job).

1995 was a big lull period in activism. Act-Up had finally folded and this was before the first protease inhibitors. I had to plough through three plus month old newsletters at ACON Library and climb a steep learning curve on what was actually news.

Then I met the Internet.

Even in 1995 there was a wealth of information out there, it was like going from the proverbial famine to feast. Pioneers like the Sisters of St. Elizabeth of Hungary [based in LA., see] were getting the info out and people were using it to secure change.

In a very short space of time we have come to the point where for individuals, staff or committee of agencies, life without the net, especially email, is hard to imagine. But this personal experience has yet to translate into a grasp of the community wide possibilities.

Such as? Well take the example of community legal centres. They have what's called an 'intranet' which links them all up. They can communicate and debate easily and find legal decisions and other information quickly. They started setting this up in the mid nineties. How useful would this be for those working in HIV/AIDS? Doctors already have access to such databases.

Another example is the development of small electronic support groups for those with very particular interests and very particular needs. The OzPoz list specifically for HIV+ gay men does this as does OzPlus and PosWomen. The net has the ability to easily link people despite geographic distance. This is part of the chaos of the net and it's essential function, which is communication. It is also basically confidential, an important point to PLWHA.

Despite these enormous new possibilities to improve lives and improve the information flow my impression from people working in HIV/AIDS is of sheer paralysing bewilderment on what to do. There seems to be this perceived need to 'get it right', which I interpret as betraying a deeper fear, born of bureaucratization, perhaps of the net itself and it's 'freeing' of information - there is no 'right' on the net. It isn't about publishing but communication. and you first get your web site up there, then you learn how to make it work well. Not the other way around. Things change too quickly.

A example of such paralysis is AFAO's new web site, which bases it's navigation entirely on plug-in software that many users wouldn't have or their computers couldn't handle (the same plug-in you'd see on a Warner Bros. or site). This ill-informed choice means that many visitors wouldn't get past the start page. It looks cute but isn't relating to it's audience. It's essentially about placing brochures in another medium and looking 'fabulous' but as we all know from our own sex lives that doesn't necessarily guarantee a good root.

That site says to me 'we are here by sufferance and aren't the least bit interested in where this might take us'.

ACON's absence of website says it all.

The net will remain inaccessible to some people, just as some people don't have access to a car. But the potential for the delivery of accurate, timely and useful information to people (at a minimum, if you give me two more pages I could outline lots more things the net can do) means that it should be *made available to people. This could mean anything from providing a list of net cafes and used and approved web sites to supporting development of net access at places like the Sydney PWA Centre.

Like the phone, the net is no longer an added extra or a luxury and any continuing failure to take up the possibilities means that ordinary PLWHA aren't getting the best service.

Tuesday, March 6

Re: Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us

basically.. yes, we will all end up in some sort of dystopian future but just keep petting the cat to keep yourself grounded in the real world. i think. badly made, this response.

Found: The net closes

I actually found some old stuff, old writing, from the 90s, through the webarchive the other day. Stuff I never thought i'd see again.

y'know. some things just get lost ..

This wasn't it! But it led me to re-read this article and - gee - I think it still holds up and things haven't advanced much. Since 1999.

This is about Internet filters ...................

Context: the Australian Government (Party is 'Liberal' in name but conservative) proposes knee-jerk Internet Censorship law. Little opposition. I managed to get the gay community stirred up but only the tekkies really join in. You won't have heard much since (or here, or anywhere much except Saudi Arabia and the States).

The impact of Filtering has barely registered since .... you do hear the very occasional story about over-blocking but concern?

The main characters:

Brian Harradine (born January 9, 1935), Australian politician, was an independent member of the Australian Senate from 1975 to 2005, representing the state of Tasmania. He was the longest-serving independent politician in Australian history. Noted catholic + homophobe.

Richard Alston (born 19 December 1941) — aka 'the world's biggest luddite' —was a Liberal member of the Australian Senate from 1986 to 2004, representing the squatters of Victoria. He was Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts 1998-2003. He is now Ambassador to the Court of St. James.

Mal Colston — aka ‘venal prick’ — was an Ex-Labor Party Senator, "who sold his soul to the Libs in exchange for getting deputy president of the Senate" and was the government's Senate majority vote for a time.

From: "Paul Canning"
To: "EFA stop censorship list"
Date: Thu, 13 May 1999 18:50:48 +1000
Subject: [STOP] The net closes

n.b. this article will be published in City Hub (May 25) in an edited form.

The net closes

Paul Canning

Harradine is a joke; Colston is a big joke. And the fate of the net access we've grown used to rests in their hands.

At the time of writing it is unclear whether the government will get its Internet Censorship legislation through before it loses its balance of power in the Senate at the end of June, though it looks likely.

We face a net censorship regime more restrictive than Malaysia's or Singapore's. One that has been shown by everyone from the CSIRO to IBM to be unworkable, that will systematically promote discrimination, that will badly compromise small Internet Service Providers, place content creators outside the law and is wide open to mischief makers.

Just one element, the requirement that access to material rated 'R' using the film and video classifications use adult verification (AVS), not only highlights the act's absurdities but will make a lot of valuable Australian content harder to find.

AVS presents an enormous barrier to Internet users leading to huge drop offs in site visits. Search engines will not index websites using AVS and there are big privacy concerns.

The R standard is "material considered likely to be harmful to those under 18 years and/or possibly offensive to some sections of the adult community." Some (non-porn) websites are already considering moving overseas because of this. One Nation's news site has already gone.

The government says that using offline film ratings is appropriate because convergence with other mediums will make the Internet more like TV -as Jon Casimir put it in the Herald, "I reckon TV is more likely to start looking like the Net than the other way around". But the real reason they were deliberately picked was to force more restrictive censorship.

The Committee allowed less than seven days for comment on the actual bill, which was worse than outlined in the initial proposals. There is no doubt that this has happened at the speed it is happening because of Harradine, but the bill fits with Alston's moral vision.

The Herald's Alan Ramsey described Alston as a "hard man of cabinet" and we've seen that throughout the net censorship debate, with a barrage of outrageous statements against the bill's opponents alongside technobabble about how 'easy' it is to censor the net.

It's worked. The media has seen the bill as simply about blocking porn to the kiddies - and who in their right mind opposes that? The 'it won't work' angle, pushed by the Industry, backfired as Alston appealed to general non-net community disquiet about 'nasties' and castigated industry whining over the costs.

Civil liberties and privacy have disappeared as issues. The Select Committee's report doesn't even bother to mention them.

What has been achieved is a hardening of Labor and Democrat opposition to typical and world wide, knee-jerk proposals like this bill.

Both now support regulation of filter products, which the gay and lesbian community pushed for.

Internet service providers (ISPs) are going to put user's net access through filters on proxy servers to comply with the demand that overseas 'offensive' material be blocked. Unregulated filters are one of the greatest long-term threats to online liberty.

Relatively new technology, filters are notorious for their 'collateral damage', often perceived as a mere by product. Hilarities like the blocking of 'button' because of that word's first four letters operate alongside systematically blocking of particular topics.

Impacts like 'over broad blocking', where entire servers like free space providers Tripod or GeoCities which house many small Australian community groups are blocked, isn't seen for what it really is; bulldozing a library with a couple of dirty books on its shelves.

Mainly they're American products and carry American values but if you use the new Australian 'family friendly' search engine iSEEK, based on American technology, certain search terms will be blocked - like 'queer', 'heroin', 'bisexual, 'sex education'.

When I tried it a search on 'paedophilia' iSEEK threw up a link to a pro-paedophilia site.

Within twenty-four hours of my circulation of this information the blocked search terms had mysteriously changed and 'paedophilia' was blocked. Before it had blocked 'suicide' and 'rape'.

The producers of iSEEK, Brisbane Company Infopro, say in their PR that the technology under iSEEK "does not restrict access to any worthwhile sites".

Filters disproportionately effect some groups - like lesbians and gays, and also feminists and drug educators - but they also diminish the net's educational value to all. St Vincents Hospital Melbourne's filter won't allow access to an HIV information site. Having looked at the site I still cannot work out what element (image or text) triggered the blocking.

Without any sort of regulation filters will entrench discrimination.

When governments are pushing kids onto the net and hence kids are using it as a primary information source it's either irresponsibility or deliberate tactics that they will find it hard to access info like sex and drug education.

This is already happening in the NSW eduction system, which uses an American filter called SmartFilter. Numerous teenagers as well as adults in TAFE colleges have reported blocked access.

SmartFilter has been found to block the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, anti-drug information, the Koran and the Bible. Locally, the Star Observer found SmartFilter blocking Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and HIV/AIDS fundraising organisation the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF).

Craig Smith, Executive Director of the Getting Real Association, producer of websites for teenagers about health and welfare issues, says that he builds the limitations imposed by filtering and monitoring into his site design.

Students trying to access a NSW Health Department supported website 'Make A Noise' often complain about blocks on pages at the site, predominantly those about sexual health.

"The main 'filtering' topics seem to be sex, gambling, criminal skills, hate speech and drugs. Which makes things a little hard when you are talking about sexuality, and quite often violence and drug and alcohol issues," he says.

When youth advisory boards put together the 'Getting Real' site (aimed at gay teens): "there was a huge focus on ensuring that the site did not contain some overtly sexual or queer name or design because of the chance that school or library tracking/filtering would identify the kind of sites they had been accessing."

Fear of the monitoring they perform is one of the main ways filters do stop access. They record where people have been and this stops people accessing things that someone thinks they shouldn't. This doesn't mean just porn sites. This means a fourteen-year-old girl stopped from accessing sexual assault information on the net because the parent assaulting her will find out.

Monitoring is a big selling point with filters.

The free 'The Internet Filter' (TIF), sold by One Catholic Super-site (Australia), is being promoted thus: "It can be used in effect to spy on employees and gather information on people's choices."

Alston has talked up a new Australian filter, Internet Sheriff, produced by Queensland company Clareview (they get a big run in the Committee Report). Yet this supposedly 'bleeding edge' software has already been shown to 'accidentally ' block the National Party's and school websites amongst others.

Filters cannot block all porn or other 'nasties' from kids because they cannot review all the estimated 36 million websites worldwide, and 'keyword' based blocking doesn't always work. You wouldn't know this from reading the marketing blurb and they won't tell you what's on the banned lists (it's a 'trade secret ').

Less than 24 hours after the Colorado school massacre CYBERsitter was touting "an informational Web site for parents concerned with what their teens are accessing on the Internet."

CYBERsitter, a favourite of the American religious right, even scans your hard drive while it's being set up and if you've visited certain anti-censorship websites it won't install.

No controls on such products exist, although use of the Fair Trading and Anti-Discrimination laws is being explored.

It's effectively the privatisation of censorship through the decision making of ISPs and filters that is happening.

The government's doubletalk on 'education' campaigns about filters is shown for the farce it is by a look at the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) 'family ' page. It literally advertises filters and doesn't detail the cons.

Most parents and educators would be unaware of the real impact which filters are having on kids information access, and I doubt that they would count such blocked access as an acceptable 'trade-off' against concerns that minors may view 'objectionable' content online.

What the law will do

The whole thing is based on complaints and will be run by the ABA and the Office of Film & Literature Classification (OFLC). Neither of which could give me a straight answer as to how it'll work in practise.

If the ABA labels your content R you have to put on an AVS within 24 hours or the ISP gets fined $27k a day. If it's RC or X they have a day to take it down or be fined.

ISPs are supposed to take "reasonable steps" when the ABA wants overseas RC or X content blocked. This means filtered access.

If you want to get a rating for the OFLC be prepared to pay on a 'cost recovery' basis.

Content providers can't complain because ISPs will be legally indemnified.

ISPs cannot give children access without parental consent.

Mail in "stored form" in not excluded but no one knows quite what this means. It could mean that anyone with a email account could be ordered to 'take down' files on their hard drive because it could be mailed to someone. Mailing list archives and bulletin boards will be effected.

How to take action

Join Electronic Frontiers Australia's protest march, Saturday May 28, 1pm, then to the OFLC and ABA offices.

Sites to visit:

Electronic Frontiers Australia for action details
Peacefire (dissecting filters)
Senate Committee report
ICON's story
Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill (zipped Word file)

Copyright: Paul Canning, 1999. Permission granted for reproduction for activist purposes only. All other reproduction requests to author at

Peacefire are my heroes! They're American kids who organised themselves against the big, filter companies. They say:
Why we do this
What should be the minimum age to get a library card without a parent's signature? How old should you have to be to get medical care without your parents' consent? At what age should your parents no longer be allowed to pull you out of sex education classes at school, or even pull you out of the whole school? I think that most people have never thought seriously about the answers to these questions.

Damn right.

Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us

Great stuff from Youtube

Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us

>> From the author <<> January 31, 2007
From mwesch

This is the 2nd draft, and I plan on doing one more final draft. Please leave comments on what could be changed or improved, or what needs to be excluded or included. Subscribe if you want to be notified when the revision is released.

UPDATE: I just added this video to Mojiti where you can actually write your comments into the video itself. It is an exciting experiment in "Video 2.0". Go check it out at and add your voice!

Transcripts are now available as well:

Monday, March 5

what a great 'lil widget :]

great find lastfm — it's social radio.

I only just signed up but have found stuff I haven't heard for at least a decade and some new stuff.

from a look after one week at how it builds up what I like and what I love and who else likes it too, I've got pointers + recommendations for music I'd otherwise have never found. love it. love it.

Watch this space ;]