New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, May 12

Bytes ·$10 laptop? - Malware on websites - goes MTV

  • The One Laptop Per Child Project, recently pushed its price per laptop to $175, from $100.

    But India's HRD ministry says it thinks it can push that price down to $10 — the manufacturing cost has already been scaled down to $47, reports the India Times.

    It is also Indians who have forced down the costs of HIV/AIDS drugs to a level that developing countries, like Brazil, can afford. Hence prolonging many million of lives.

  • A recent Google study discovered "around 450,000 web pages that launched drive-by downloads of malicious programs. Another 700,000 pages launched downloads of suspicious software."
    "We have started an effort to identify all web pages on the Internet that could potentially be malicious ... Web sites that have been identified as malicious, using our verification procedure, are labeled as potentially harmful when returned as a search result."
  • The New York Times is performing a SEO trick to get it's archived content seen — everything's been redated.
    Each “article” is re-purposed on a clean, CSS-driven text page, clearly dated TODAY and not-co-clearly labeled as “originally published” back in 1997, 1998, or whatever all the way back to 1981 .. Clearly if Google is going to rank “newly published” results as most relevant in a SERP, there is a nice big fat incentive to “re-publish” such archives fairly often.
  • YouTube/Google is experimenting with text ads, running directly under videos. They've also announced they'll soon start sharing advertising revenue with content-creating users.

    Next stage, user-generated viral advertising?

    All of which should send Vivienne Reding, the European Commissioner whose TV Without Frontiers directive includes a ban on "falsely representing oneself as a consumer", back to the drawing board. Unfortunately, it's UK law from the end of the year.

  • is launching a video service, using a much higher bitrate than YouTube. You could set up your own version of MTV (I'll stick to audio ... ) The eventual aim is to have every music video ever made!

  • VeeSee TV is a new Web TV Station for deaf people, using BSL. Like Current TV, it'll carry user-generated content

Friday, May 11

What's a widget?

I was looking again at the Alan Johnson widget I have sitting in the left-column.

It is a widget, but all it is is an image and an extremely simple image at that.

It's given to you as code, so they can change the image on many blogs now (they don't appear to be counting but it's now in the hundreds).

What makes it work is

  • the background knowledge and resonance which means that 'alan johnston' and 'gaza' require nothing more — you could take 'reporter' out and it would still work
  • the BBC brand — so strong that it works in an enormous number of forms, including this sentence, where it's leaping out

Wow search widget

John Battelle highlights a fabulous widget from Searchblog.

Folks who come from search (I call them hummingbirds because they come via a very specific search, read one post, and leave) now get a box greeting them and giving them some search-driven options on the site.

This instance is clunky — far too wordy, who understands 'keywords'? — but for a user, done right, it's a winner. My first reaction was 'wow'.

Postscript: there are similar widgets out there - WordPress have one - and one of which I'm going to try out , Lijit.

US Judge: Google background checks OK

In a federal employment case, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has blessed Google background searches by employers.

In US law, a employer searching about an employee didn't violate his "right to fundamental fairness".

A Google search didn't constitute ex-parte communication, since it wasn't a communication between parties. The judges commented that the Internet should be regarded as just another research source.

What this means is that anyone's past will continue to haunt them — most crucially, however it appears online — and, so far, the law's no defence.

This is US law, but, logically, there doesn't appear to be much practical defence in the UK. How is the Web different from looking at paper archives? Or calling people?

The web is obviously completely different by dint of the scale of information about you and how easy it is to find it.

So, isn't it smart to research online before you hire somebody?


  • If it's recorded anywhere that someone thinks you smoked dope at university, it's out there and may come back to haunt you.
  • That comment you made and forgot about on a Bulletin Board where you expressed an opinion?
  • That time when you annoyed someone powerful and they made false claims about you which spread around the web and you couldn't respond?
  • If it's your Real Name out there, how aren't you stuffed if this causes someone to form a negative opinion? How would you know?

Are today's digital generation aware of the electronic record they're leaving behind them?

And how unprepared / undefended they are from the consequences?

Thursday, May 10


Iraq was more than just a mistake. The relationship with Bush is toxic and ... I could go on. And on.

But on this day there is one other thing worth noting for the history books. Blair has led cultural change for the better in this country.

In particular, he has been a friend and shown leadership on lesbian and gay equality (you could pick this apart, Labour have often appeared forced by the EU in legal change) but for this I admire him.

And it is not new, he has been a supporter since becoming an MP in 1983.

One of his farewell speeches, notably, was to the gay rights organisation Stonewall last month:

... And I really just wanted to say two things about the changes that have happened over the past ten years, which you will know very well.

There are a lot of important things, but I think civil partnerships is really the thing … as I was saying to people earlier, it doesn’t just give you a lot of pride, but it actually brought real joy.

I don’t know whether you remember the very first day, and it was quite a bizarre circumstance that the first ceremonies were actually in Northern Ireland.


I was so struck by it, it was so alive, I remember actually seeing the pictures on television. It is not often that you sort of skip around in my job, I can assure you, But it really the fact that that the people were so happy and the fact that you felt just one major, major change had happened, of which everyone can feel really proud.

And now I think we were just saying, was it 16,000 civil partnerships, and what is interesting now is that other countries in Europe are looking at this legislation, and it is very divisive still in Spain and Italy at the moment. But nonetheless it is happening.

This is my second reflection about it all.

There are a whole load of different pieces of legislation, which I will not rehearse here, but what has happened is that the culture of the country has changed in a definable way as a result of it. And here is what I think is really interesting.

The change in the culture and the civilising effect of it has gone far greater than the gay and lesbian community.

In other words, by taking a stand on these issues and by removing prejudice and discrimination, and by enabling people to stand proud as what they are, it has had an impact that I think is far more profound in the way the country thinks about itself.

And I want to say we have an immensely proud history, that is able to stand on its own merits in the 21st Century and say that we know we have a great future.

One thing I think is very important for any country that is to succeed in the future you make the most of the talents and abilities of your people.

If you allow discrimination to fester, that is a complete rejection of that modernising and civilising notion.

One of the other interesting things he talked about in that speech was the role of the gay and lesbian 'nice guy' organisations, like Stonewall, in change — as opposed to the 'crazies', like Outrage!

When you are trying to do something that is difficult, divisive and when, as a politician, you do something that you know is going to be controversial … it is all very well saying well I want to do this and you can see some of you people are up for it and some of them are thinking “well, hmm”


What actually matters enormously is that the people from outside politics that you are trying to do it with have a sufficient intelligence and sensitivity, which I think has really defined the Stonewall campaign, I define it as a polite determination.

What Stonewall or any of the 'polite' guys would tell you though is that they only look like that because they have the 'fundies' to be compared with.

All movements need a 'left-field' and any activist worth their salt knows that the agenda only gets started and pushed further by the brave fundies.

They're first over the parapet, the Shock Troops. Stonewall, coming along behind, wouldn't exist without them.

Coming full circle, Blair's "change in the culture and the civilising effect of it" is precisely what early fundies (Gay Liberation Front, 1971) were arguing for.

They called it the end of "
the Patriarchal Family".
Human beings could be much more various than our constricted patterns of 'masculine' and 'feminine' permit-we should be free to develop with greater individuality.

In a society dominated by the sexist culture it is very difficult, if not impossible, for heterosexual men and women to escape their rigid gender-role structuring and the roles of oppressor and oppressed.

Etcetera. GLF was Marxist and Feminist.

This was the world then, quoting a US psychiatry manual:
Our values in Western civilisation are founded upon the sanctity of the family, the right to property, and the worthwhileness of 'getting ahead ' The family can be established only through heterosexual intercourse, and this gives the woman a high value.
And these were what the GLF summed up, in 1971, as their 'immediate demands'.
  • that all discrimination against gay people, male and female, by the law, by employers, and by society at large, should end.
  • that all people who feel attracted to a member of their own sex be taught that such feeling are perfectly valid.
  • that sex education in schools stop being exclusively heterosexual.
  • that psychiatrists stop treating homosexuality as though it were a sickness, thereby giving gay people senseless guilt complexes.
  • that gay people be as legally free to contact other gay people, though newspaper ads, on the streets and by any other means they may want as are heterosexuals, and that police harassment should cease right now.
  • that employers should no longer be allowed to discrim inate against anyone on accou nt of their sexual preferences.
  • that the age of consent for gay males be reduced to the same as for straight.
  • that gay people be free to hold hands and kiss in public, as are heterosexuals.
Not all of these demands have been met in 2007.

Tuesday, May 8 postscript

Some of the possible use for this new service are popping up in the blogosphere (well, a couple).

Martin Moore, talking about the campaign to remove restrictions on Alzheimer's drugs, says:

In the case of the Alzheimer's drugs NICE - which was not given a right to reply in the Mail's article - has since responded on NewsCounter.

And someone called 'Matthew', refers posters on a Banks Are Bastards thread again to Newscounter for a response (from the RBS).

I can see how counter-spin needs a home and there's a market-gap being filled (they seem to have signed up a fair few big names), but - again - shouldn't the organisations just get their PR act together online demselves?

And here's a European information architect agreeing with my comment on the usability.

Martin Belam adds that:

On each individual story page they have added a "top referrers" panel, which does an IP look-up and displays where visitors are coming from.

Huh?! newscounter quickly responded that:

I understand your concern with the top referrers section. The rationale was from a promotion/marketing perspective. However, we will keep this under review.

Martin doesn't like what feels like his privacy being violated. He is leaving the site as a result. I'd be reviewing toot suite ...

And MediaGuardian weighs in:

'Newscounter might have one remaining leg to stand on if it didn't require its users to pay £300 for their right to reply. This is just advertising and a dressed-up PR consultancy service, surely?'

Oh god, this reminds me of 2000, Boo! and the Tulip boom ...

Where's WCAG?

The Web Standards Project carries a progress interview with Judy Brewer from W3C on how the new accessibility standard - WCAG 2.0 - is going.

This may arrive in final form by year's end - no promises though. It represents a significant expansion in covering technologies previously ignored in the largely HTML-focussed existing accessibility standards.

  • Brewer sees WCAG2 as a boon for developers as they'll be able to create accessible content "without having as many constraints on the technologies that they use".
  • They're now on the 'second Last Call Working Draft'.
  • Comment is encouraged, however, and has already resulted "in significant improvements"
  • One is recognition that it "does not cover all possible solutions for cognitive disability issues", they think this "require(s) more research and development"
  • They "want it to be useful for diverse audiences", so will produce Quick Reference guidance
  • Calling it WCAG 2.0 rather than WCAG 1.1 is deliberate, an echo of Web 2.0
  • Brewer believes that "a quantum leap in accessibility of the Web will come when support for production of accessible content is built into mainstream authoring tools". To this end, authoring tool standards are also changing..

Bytes · MS vs Flash - 2012 tech failure predicted - Google Maps Easter Egg

  • Microsoft have introduced a competitor to Flash, especially Flash Video in Silverlight, a "cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web".

    It allows developers the ability to code in C sharp, bypassing javascript and HTML. Comment is mixed.

  • Over-broad Sponsorship deals are undermining technology for the 2012 Olympics.

    Derek Wyatt, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Olympic group told a security conference in London that potential suppliers had been overlooked in favour of games sponsor Visa.

    Andrea Simmons, a member of the British Computer Society's security group, said there was potential for "another IT project failure" — most scarily in the security area — in the way the technology was being allocated.

  • The Google Maps Easter Egg - "Swim across the Atlantic Ocean — 5,572 km" - has proven a big viral hit.

    You'd almost think it was deliberate marketing (though I doubt it) ...

    If you haven't seen it, ask for directions from anywhere in America to Europe or vice versa.

    According to Joe White, that's the only route which produces a 'swim' instruction. Not to Hawaii, or Australia.

    From America, the starting point is Long Wharf, Boston (it goes to Terminal Grande-Bretagne, Le Havre) but if you ask from there it just tells you to "head south". They also think a swim would take 29 days, meaning 5 miles an hour. a better time would be 72 days.

    Plus, the shortest route is actually Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Quiberon, France.

    They could have looked that up using the new Google News Archives (that'll be $2.95).

    I'd think they ended up with an opportunity to plant an Egg simply because what else can you tell people? Head to the airport? Or perhaps the Port? Or the Marina? Which airport?

    Those dots aren't yet connected in GMaps.

Monday, May 7

Welcome to Gootopia

Shelly Palmer provides another take on Google History on HuffPost. Welcome to Gootopia:

Alethea Hokum sat quietly, barely breathing. Her glazed eyes showed a faint reflection of the video monitor that had lulled her into semi-consciousness. Startled and just a bit confused, she reached down to silence her vibrating PDA. But something caught her eye. It was a text message offering her an additional 15 percent off if she would like her carpets cleaned this week.

Of course the text message was just a few seconds out of sync with the sponsorship message she had just seen, but Alethea knew the offer was especially for her. It was an offer she couldn't refuse.

She hit the pause button on her television, answered the text message with a simple "y" and pressed send. Two clicks on her remote to get back to the part of the show she missed and less than a minute later, Alethea Hokum returned to her blissful world of personalized, highly relevant media.

Across town, Verity Bunker, a stay-at-home mother of two, was taking a much-needed retail therapy break. As she approached a digital sign at the mall, the message changed to show a woman, with a physique quite similar to her own, in a remarkably familiar setting. Verity could not put her finger on it, but she knew that she had to visit this particular store on this particular trip -- what was it about that sign?

This sounds exactly like the marketing nirvana which execs have rhapsodised about for almost the last decade.

I have a friend who runs a company and I've heard this many a time in the past, usually involving mobile phones 'going off' whilst walking past shops.

But Palmer wants to burst that bubble.

Statisticians will tell you that, with the appropriate sample size and mathematical tools, it is relatively easy to predict what a population will do. However, it is absolutely impossible to predict what any individual will do.

Later that day, Alethea and Verity meet-up with two of their friends at the Tennis Club. Verity says, "... you know, I've been thinking about Mexican food all day. Anyone want to join me?" Three of the four women agree but Alethea says, "That sounds fine, but you know what? The best Chinese restaurant in town is just a block away from here. Why don't we go there?"

So much for all of the day's hyper-targeted Mexican food marketing dollars, or -- was it the fact that the Chinese food trade federation outspent them and got Alethea, the thought leader, to influence the group. Wow! Gootopia is going to be a strange place to live.

This is true. But 'Gootopia' is already a pretty misfiring place. I've been using Gmail for ages and get contextualised ads. Some of the mis-relationships are hysterical.

Sure, this will get better but Palmer's basic point is right. The reality of completely individualised marketing is a long ways off.
NB: Gootopia is actually some sort of 'safe space' for kids online, inhabited by Googles ...

Sunday, May 6

The oilman and the rentboy

Worth it?

The head of one of World's largest companies has been outed: — by a treacherous rentboy he met through an Escort website and who shopped him to the Daily Mail.

"For the past 41 years of my career at BP I have kept my private life separate from my business life.

I have always regarded my sexuality as a personal matter, to be kept private," Lord Browne said in a statement.

Yeah god queen, you tried to nail that closet shut but the Internet was just too tempting wasn't it.

I agree with Peter Tatchell's take though — .

I can see no demonstrable public interest grounds for the Mail on Sunday – or any other media – outing Lord Browne. He wasn’t being hypocritical or homophobic. If he was denouncing gay people or advocating anti-gay laws – or if he had authorised the victimisation of BPs’ gay employees - that would be a justifiable reason to expose his sexuality and double standards. I would have outed him myself. But I am not aware that Lord Browne was homophobic. He may have shown moral weakness by not coming out, but hiding in the closet – however lamentable - is not ethically of the same order as endorsing homophobic prejudice and discrimination.

The lessons from the fall of Lord Browne are: don’t lie or cover-up, and it is best to be honest and open about one’s sexuality

Browne's catch was that bloody website (and probably the danger it represented, there's something all so predictable about the Rich and the Wild Side) ..

"My initial witness statements, however, contained an untruthful account about how I first met Jeff.

"This account, prompted by my embarrassment and shock at the revelations, is a matter of deep regret. It was retracted and corrected.

"I have apologised unreservedly, and do so again today.

For this, he forgave his pension rights of 15 million pounds and resigned early.

Poor sod. Paul Dacre be damned to hell and all who sail with him.

"This is a voluntary step which I am making to avoid unnecessary embarrassment and distraction to the company at this important time.

"I have spent my entire working life with BP, and want to thank everyone for their dedication, loyalty, support and hard work in creating one of the worlds finest companies.

"I shall not be commenting on my personal issues further. I wish to pursue my personal life in private."
Parsing ... 'So there'. 'Now f***off'.

One positive consequence might be business looking again at it's gay staff. According to James Harding, Business Editor at the Times.

Lord Browne’s decision to keep his sexuality a private matter during a lifetime at BP was a personal choice that says more about the code of the man than the values of the company. But the implication of his discretion is that there would have been a price to pay for openness.

Clearly, there is an element to this that is generational. Forty years ago, when he joined the company, the business world would not have accepted a gay chief executive. The view today, of course, is that the world has moved on and grown up: investors, executives and board directors pay no attention to sexuality when promoting people in the company. So why is it the case that there are so very few chief executives or, for that matter, board directors of FTSE-250 companies who are gay – and comfortable to say they are gay?

The dispiriting conclusion must be that so many people still do not bring their real selves to work.

Bytes · Belgians go backwards - unavailable - tech And guns

  • Yahoo! Pipes, the graphical, web-based RSS re-mixer, has significantly increased its geo support. They now provide a map output that plots your data on a Yahoo! supplied map. Pipes will also export geocontent in KML.

  • That group of Belgian newspapers that sued Google to be removed from its index are now back in.

    Their traffic went through the floor so they ended up having agreed to use the commonly-accepted blocking standards that they initially rejected as not being legal.

  • Michael Cross reports that the national police portal,, greeted visitors this week with: "services have been temporarily suspended."

    It still does:

    Bike stolen again? Don't try to report it through the web. This is a big comedown for a site which, three years ago, was supposed to put us at the forefront of e-government. Britain was one of only two countries in Europe letting citizens report non-urgent crimes on the web, should we so wish.

    We didn't, of course. User figures were derisory. As it wasn't in government's interest to make reporting crimes easier, the police portal had almost no promotion. The fact that it represented a nonexistent organisation, the UK police force, didn't help either.

    However Cross also claims that:

    The members of society most likely to need public services - as victims of crime, for example - are the least likely to be confident internet users.

    Er, the biggest group of crime victims are Youth, and they're the most confident users by some stretch...

    The above image (not just the unavailability but how it's dealt with) is a SCANDAL. The Guardian should have made much more of this.

  • In the wake of the latest US gun massacre, the BBC reports, tech tools are being more hastily investigated.

    Rave Guardian - invented after research found that phones are one of the primary tools students use to keep safe ... allows the student to set a timer - for perhaps half a hour, when they leave their friends' dorm room to go back to theirs. If they return safe they can simply turn off the alarm.

    "If something did happen, it would transmit their location every three minutes - including their profile - to campus safety," Rodger Desai, president and CEO of the New York based company Rave Wireless, told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

    After I blogged about vampiric capitalists snapping up '' et al, I got comment and looked at some of the US blogosphere's debate, post-massacre.

    As a Brit, it's difficult not to see the solution as simple, and not requiring yet more sophisticated technology (especially ones with other more sinister uses) — ban guns.

    But it was good to see the blogosphere showing it's use as such solutions get debated.

Labour tiptoes into blogosphere

The Labour party met last week with party-supporting bloggers — to promote their new, so-bright-and-purple-my-eyes-hurt, NHS campaign 'Better with Labour' website.

"Labour's investment and commitment to the NHS is transforming the services it provides. Learn here how your NHS is saving more lives, treating more patients, quicker than ever before."
NB: Bloggers4Labour — make your b****y logo easier to reuse! That's a transparent gif, top-right, with added red background.

Andrew Brown blogs that:

I think its fair to say that the Party doesn’t quite know what to make of us, or this medium. They know we’re out here and they’ve all heard of the right wing bloggers that trade on gossip and a relationship with the mainstream media but by and large we’re below the radar.

So this move is experimental, seeing how we react to each other and what sort of relationship can be developed.

They've a way to go.

I get their mailings - the surprise of seeing 'Gordon Brown' appearing in your mailbox soon wears off, especially when the email appears amateur-hour like, images attached, odd, vaguely phallic, text background, as seen in Gmail as right.

The Party website is terribly amateurish (Title: 'Home page: The Labour Party: the future of Britain'), though getting better, and I have yet to see any sight of an organised input into any webspace, bar obvious breakfasts for bloggers.

But if the Deputy websites are anything to go by [Deputy candidates count friends online], they're a good sign that the amateur, generational, web-fearing approach from Senior Labour will continue for some time yet ....

MS + Yahoo - not happening, yet

The Wall Street Journal says talks are off:

Microsoft and Yahoo in recent months discussed a possible merger of the two companies or some kind of match-up that would pair their respective strengths, say people familiar with the situation. But the merger discussions are no longer active, these people say. The two companies may still explore other ways of cooperating.

Any merger makes complete sense but analysts say it would represent a major turn for Microsoft, as it'd be financed through debt.

Arrogant Americans, pioneering French

Minitel 1. Built 1982

Minitel 1 terminal. Built 1982 and still going strong
Where else but the United States would you ever see a headline like this? — Et Voilà, la Vidéo! — So it turns out they have the Internet in France!


And this is the New York Times ...

Great to see fellow Americans taking this columnist to task — in many ways Europeans are way ahead of America, digitally.

And the Minitel in France in particular shows just how ahead, it's estimated to have 16 million regular users and is now available over the Internet.

Since its early days in the 1980s, people could
  • make online purchases,
  • make train reservations,
  • check stock prices,
  • search the telephone directory, and
  • chat
    in a similar way to that now made possible by the Internet.
Although a similar UK service enjoyed some early success, changes to the way it was charged that were made by the post-privatised British Telecom, as well as the universal availability of the free teletext service, saw its complete demise.

Lots of other countries tried as well — all failed.

As with early considerations on possible consumer usage of the Internet, two crucial uses were initially underestimated:
  • personal messaging, and
  • porn services and erotic message boards (messageries roses). Indeed, these are said to have accounted for the majority of traffic.

The development of Minitel spawned the creation of many start-up companies in a manner similar to the later dot-com bubble of Internet-related companies.

"More than 90 percent of our business comes through the Minitel, which was something I never originally expected. But we sometimes forget how deeply rooted the Minitel is in our daily lives in France. It might not be big on graphics or multimedia, but it’s quick, easy to use and people trust it completely for financial transactions."
David Israel, founder and CEO of real estate portal Immopratique, which offers access to its property database through both the Internet and Minitel.

France Télécom charges Minitel users at rates of up to € 1 a minute on their monthly telephone bill. The rates depend on the service called; most services are far cheaper than the maximum. It then pays back part of the sum to the companies that operate Minitel servers.

In the late 1990s, Minitel connections were stable at 100 million a month plus 150 million online directory inquiries, in spite of growing Internet use.

In 2005, the most popular Minitel application was Teleroute, the online real-time freight exchange, which accounted for nearly 60% of Minitel usage.

Minitel was often considered as an impediment for a fast deployment of the Internet in France, since it already provided safe and easy online access for many useful services without requiring a personal computer.

Indeed, it still has many advantages over the Internet:

  • it does not require subscribing to a service,
  • buying and maintaining a costly personal computer, and
  • there are fewer security issues with respect to credit card payments and other personal information.

Also, because Minitels follow well-defined standards,

  • there are hardly any compatibility problems, which are commonplace with Internet services.

On the other hand, some argue that thanks to the Minitel, the French are used to doing transactions online, and will embrace the Internet as it offers more value and convenience than the Minitel.

The use of the Internet during the Presidential Election certainly suggest the French have been culturally well-prepped — thanks to the Minitel.

The Battle to Control Obama's Myspace

Bit of history, which won't repeat, being made over Barack Obama's MySpace page.

In November 2004, Joe Anthony, a paralegal living in Los Angeles, started a unofficial fan page for then-newly-elected Senator Barack Obama, inspired by Obama's keynote address at that summer's Democratic convention.

By the time of Obama's official campaign announcement in late January, Anthony's Obama profile - which had the valuable url of - already had more than 30,000 friends, well more than the other contenders.

Over the following weeks, it continued to grow at a rapid pace, generating lots of headlines about Obama winning the "MySpace primary."

For several weeks, he collaborated on a daily basis, with the Obama campaign offering advice on how to improve the site, sharing content with him, helping him place a fundraising widget on the site, etc.

He in turn gave the campaign password access to the profile in case they wanted to tweak it quickly, but they made little use of it and relied mainly on Anthony to maintain the site.

On March 17, MySpace announced the creation of the "Impact Channel," which aimed to focused attention on the presidential race, and the Obama campaign had them use Anthony's Obama profile as the site the Impact Channel pointed to.

Obama's friend total rocketed from 100,000 to 140,000 in a week — a huge asset for the campaign. The 'lifetime value' of the page has been estimated now as in the millions:

"Another way of looking at it ... if only 10% of these names were fundraising responsive, they might generate $200 each during the course of the campaign = $3.2 million gross."

The marketing industry charges anything from $1-$3 just for one email address. When Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace, he paid approximately $31.35 per user

Meanwhile, the campaign had just hired some new staff very experienced at running social network-focused efforts for progressive groups and causes.

It's around this point that the informal working relationship between Anthony and the Obama campaign went sour.

Anthony decided to email the Obama campaign asking to be paid in some way for his time.

This set off discussions within the campaign about what to do, and ultimately they decided they had to control the page — how this then happened hasn't done the campaign any good.
  • Although he'd let the Campaign have access to the profile, the fact that they didn't have complete control began to freak out the staffers. They become concerned about the currency and accuracy of information on the site. They saw a disaster waiting to happen
  • Anthony was overworked and suggested that they should make him a consultant.
  • They said they would rather have a one-time transfer payment, and he should name a price.
  • He picked a number. They said no and went to MySpace management for resolution.
  • MySpace came up with an equitable solution. Anthony was given no choice and the URL transferred to the campaign. But he has been given the opportunity to build the site again with a different URL and full transfer of his friends list.
Being naive, Anthony had asked for $40k, and this has led many to label him an opportunist.

The way it was dealt with has led him to label the Campaign a 'bully', generating masses of negative media for a Campaign which has presented itself as 'web-friendly'. Plus, this comes not long after the fiasco of the anti-Hilary video, which was a huge hit on YouTube but again wasn't the product of the actual campaign.

The coverage of the fiasco led Obama to ring Anthony himself:

"He said he really appreciates the work I've done. We both agreed that this is new to everyone but there's a lot to be learned. I don't think he actually apologized. He said he stood by his campaign and everything. He was very nice. Exactly what anybody would expect."

MySpace's said:

We are firmly committed to empowering our users and protecting their rights. The situation with Senator Obama's profile became an unfortunate instance where a user gave a campaign functional control of a profile and the relationship between the two broke down. We felt under the circumstances that Senator Obama had the right to the URL containing his name and to the official campaign content that was provided, but that the user should retain the basic elements of the profile, including the friends who had been accumulated. Now that each Presidential candidate controls his/her own MySpace page, we don't expect this to be a problem again.
So this won't happen again.

But it puts future presidential volunteer efforts into a new context.

Other campaigns have tried much looser structures, especially the famous Howard Dean campaign in 2004.

Joe Trippi talks about why in his book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything.

One of his followers commented in the wake of this battle:

The Dean campaign gave us simple instructions, "Speak for yourself. Don't speak for the campaign. But talk about why you're here, why YOU support Dean."

A local cable access channel was hosting a talk show on the candidates. They invited representatives from the various local campaign volunteer groups. I went for the Dean Meetup group in my county. There was a very articulate former reporter representing Clark supporters, and that was it. The Kerry group had agreed to send somebody, but had first checked with the campaign. The campaign said the volunteer would first have to drive 2 hours for a full day of media training before appearing on this small local TV show. The Dean campaign sent me an email telling me how to get local press coverage before I went to Iowa, while I was there, and when I got back. That was all the training I got. I never thought to ask the campaign for permission to be on TV. This was our campaign, and we all felt that.

I went on TV before, during, and after Iowa. When the talk show moderator asked about Dean's positions, I either replied with things I'd read in campaign literature, things I'd heard him say, or my own opinions--clearly stated as such.

Dean supporters started Meetup groups, websites, blogs, and listservs. They held visibility and other events and invited the media. Today I'm sure they would have started pages on MySpace and Facebook. As so many things did in that campaign, they belonged to us, and the campaign brought us in as fast as they could.

Only now, after more campaign experience with other candidates, do I realize how rare it was for a campaign to escape the clutches of the true chattering class, the political consultants.

My good mate Matthew Taylor (see 'Matthew Taylor is an ignoramus') is on the Board for a new website.

Newscounter is a new right to reply service for people and organisations to respond to controversial press stories. This should stimulate debate about public trust and the role of the media in society

The site allows you to:
  • petition to call for a response to controversial press stories
  • Read a response to a story
  • petition on which side of the story you find more persuasive

This should already give you an idea of whom it appears aimed at — the literate, the already blogging, those who understand that statement.

The site appears to follow the Telegraph's design lead. Huge headlines, small text. It's usability is baaaad.

I'm also really unclear who the audience will be. It appears to be just another forum for organisations to spin against negative media, when those organisations should really be out on the web and using other tactics to counter negative media if they've got any sense.

One of the few sensible arguments made for it is that it's a repository for counter-spin, it's making it easier to find it. Well shouldn't that be what organisations use their own websites for?

I can see a business case, can imagine the lot behind it managing to sign some people up to pay the wages (The Register reports "The website launches in true old media style with a breakfast briefing in Soho's Groucho Club").

But it harks back again to my main point in talking previously about Taylor — they want to replicate the web and build walled gardens, and that will fail.

If your organisation is being bad-mouthed would your entire PR strategy revolve around this website? No? I didn't think so.

And of course if you're complaining about The Guardian, there's already a right-of-reply and a Reader's Editor.

Perhaps they should be campaigning for the rest of the media to act like The Guardian? Too hard? Less profitable?