New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, September 1

The Rt. Hon. Minister for YouTube

Absolutely damning take on UK in The Register by Chris Williams : Where in the world is the UK's silicon valley?

After running through the real successes -, which is genius and, er, a few more (it misses Bebo) - and after failing to locate UK's beating heart, it turns it's attention to Gordon Brown, DC, SMC , da Millibands and pals.

The Rt. Hon. Minister for YouTube

What about government support? The newly minted departments for trade and industry might do better (we'll give them the benefit of the doubt) but so far, when it comes to technology, our politicians often prefer not to let facts, or indeed issues, get in the way of a good story. Meaningful discussion gives way to posturing.

Having failed to engage with da yoof via every medium ever, both main parties have claimed to be convinced that YouTube and Facebook are the tools they've been waiting for to involve the Kersal Massive in public discourse. Before his promotion to glory in the Foreign Office, Labour's David Miliband was engaged in a battle royale with the opposition to decide who gets social networking the most.

Cameron might have a blog [which is getting better, though I wouldn't auto-load video and the text's too small ;) ], but Miliband clearly gained the initiative with this recent nonsense by channeling conference magnate Tim O’Reilly:

Instead of citizens acting in isolation, unsure of whether their actions are reciprocated by others, feeling powerless in the face of large organisations and global change, citizens can feel part of a bigger project. They can create a shared willingness to act, their preferences can be aggregated, and can give rise to collective action as well as collective discussion.

Cynics would suggest this is the internet equivalent of Gordon Brown proclaiming himself an Arctic Monkeys fan. Serious lamenters of the lack of government support around new technology might be less charitable. It shows UK tech entrepreneurs they’re on their own, as it ever was, and probably should be.

Friday, August 31

Stanford robot car "drives like Grandma"

How long before we trust a robot car coming down the street? Will I live to see it?

Wired: "It drives like my grandma," exclaimed one bystander, as Junior cautiously pulled up to an intersection, turned on its blinker, waited ten seconds, and then pulled cautiously and jerkily around the curve.

Pathetic for a human -- but pretty damn impressive for a completely self-contained, autonomous robot.

Whereas this ...

.. I could live with.

Thursday, August 30

Can we help you?

These are animated beat officers that pop up on a Chinese user's browser and walk, bike or drive across the screen warning them to stay away from 'illegal' internet content.

The cartoon alerts will appear every half hour on 13 of China's top portals, including Sohu and Sina, and by the end of the year will appear on all websites registered with Beijing servers, the Beijing Public Security Ministry said in a statement.

The introduction of the animated figures will be part of a campaign to weed out "harmful material and information" and "illicit activities" on the Internet.

"The existence of these problems has affected the healthy development of the Internet, brought harm to the youths' minds, contaminated the social ethos and disrupted the social order."
The male and female cartoon officers, designed for the ministry by Sohu, will offer a text warning to surfers to abide by the law and tips on internet security as they move across the screen in a virtual car, motorcycle or on foot, the Ministry said.

From Beijing Youth Daily, via Chinese E-Govenmence Net: (translated by CDT) , hat tip China Digital Times:
Starting today, when netizens visit all the main portals of Shenzhen city, Guangdong, they will see two cartoon figures "Jingjing" and "Chacha" (Jing Cha = Police). The image of Shenzhen Internet Police will officially be online. From now on, when netizens visit websites and web forums of Shenzhen, they will see these two cartoon police images floating on their screen. Our reporter learned that these are the images of Shenzhen Internet Police, presented by Internet Surveillance Division of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau, for the first time in China.

"The main function of Jingjing and Chacha is to intimidate, not to answer questions," our reporter was told by officials in charge of The Internet Security and Surveillance Division of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau.

What is a mole?

Possible questions for a new Australian citizenship test --- filtered by Catherine Deveney at The Age.


1. Do you understand the meaning, but are unable to explain the origin of, the term "died in the arse"?

2. What is a mole?

3. Are these terms related: chuck a sickie; chuck a spaz; chuck a U-ey?

4. Explain the following passage: "In the arvo last Chrissy the relos rocked up for a barbie, some bevvies and a few snags. After a bit of a Bex and a lie down we opened the pressies, scoffed all the chockies, bickies and lollies. Then we drained a few tinnies and Mum did her block after Dad and Steve had a barney and a bit of biffo."


1. Macca, Chooka and Wanger are driving to Surfers in their Torana. If they are travelling at 100 km/h while listening to Barnsey, Farnsey and Acca Dacca, how many slabs will each person on average consume between flashing a brown eye and having a slash?

2. Complete the following sentences:

a) "If the van's rockin' don't bother …

b) You're going home in the back of a …

c) Fair suck of the …

3. I've had a gutful and I can't be fagged. Discuss

4. Have you ever been on the giving or receiving end of a wedgie?

5. Do you have a friend or relative who has a car in their front yard "up on blocks"? Is his name Keith and does he have a wife called Cheryl?


1. Does your family regularly eat a dish involving mincemeat, cabbage, curry powder and a packet of chicken noodle soup called either chow mein, chop suey or kai see ming?

2. What are the ingredients in a rissole?

3. Demonstrate the correct procedure for eating a Tim Tam.

4. Do you have an Aunty Myrna who is famous for her tuna mornay and other dishes involving a can of cream of celery soup?

5. In any two-hour period have you ever eaten three-bean salad, a chop and two serves of pav washed down with someone else's beer that has been nicked from a bath full of ice?

6. When you go to a bring- your-own-meat barbie can you eat other people's meat or are you only allowed to eat your own?

7. What purple root vegetable beginning with the letter "b" is required by law to be included in a hamburger with the lot?

some citizens ...

1. Do you own or have you ever owned a lawn mower, a pair of thongs, an Esky or Ugg boots?

2. Is it possible to "prang a car" while doing "circle work"?

3. Who would you like to crack on to?

4. Who is the most Australian: Kevin "Bloody" Wilson, John "True Blue" Williamson, Kylie Minogue or Warnie?

5. Is there someone you are only mates with because they own a trailer or have a pool?

6. Would you love to have a beer with Duncan?

Wednesday, August 29

Response to COI

Well, to Seb anyhow ;] - [The COI is the Central Office of Information who do big government marketing stuff]

Seb said...

Hi Paul,

Just for clarity I'll repeat these: Firstly, I'd better declare my interest - I work for COI. Very quickly secondly, I had better state that these comments are my own personal views only, not those of COI, but I felt it only fair for readers to know the context of my response.

Clarified! It's easy to forget that this is the public web and given past experience who knows who might take Seb's words out of context to whack not Seb but someone else. Easy to forget when Seb's a colleague in the wider and real sense.

On to Seb's points, in response to my post UK Gov goes backwards on net marketing and comment in Milton Keynes betrays Keynes.
I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say:
The disconnect between their new world and the land of the OPSI's and most politicians is vast and agencies like OPSI and the COI are letting them down.

I think COI are trying to help as much as possible. However, we have little influence and no control over these things. COI has to persuade other government departments to do things, but only if they choose to use us. COI does not have any policy making role in this are or funding to make these things happen (yet?).

The COI has influence, of course. It's been the COI quoted throughout the Facebook episode, that's what I started from.

'Letting them down' was about how the media of choice for youth has now changed so revisit the rules, if necessary, to follow them and be where they are. Otherwise we're letting them down.

I can imagine the embarrassment ahead - in game ads? - and someone needs to start facing the MSM down.
Sorry, it's take a while to get around to responding to this.

Firstly, I'd better declare my interest - I work for COI. Very quickly secondly, I had better state that these comments are my own personal views only, not those of COI, but I felt it only fair for readers to know the context of my response.

So, to my substantive points:
1) don't believe everything you read in the press. There has been a lot of mis-information about this story; although in substance what you link to and state is generally accurate, as I understand it. The Times did rather a hash of it in a later story posted a few days later.
The press is generally crap at reporting these issues. I may have mentioned how they don't challenge and in fact promote ignorance.
2) To say that COI pulled the advertising isn't quite fair. It was only suspended while some question regarding the issues were explored; it was always the intention to re-introduce once satisfactory assurances were made.
That's the point really, what could be a 'satisfactory assurance'? All the options being offered by marketeers are really sticking plasters over the main problem - social networks means different contexts. Plus throw up other potential problems.
3) Tom's report certainly has reached COI. Unfortunately, he doesn't have complete knowledge of the machinations of government and the status of COI. COI on its own cannot do much of what was recommended as we are not funded centrally, like other government departments. We have to convince those central government department to spend their money in ways we recommend, not an easy task - especially in the digital world, which is still typically an after thought last minute thing.
So convince :] More power to you Seb. Your boss? [Let's run that mug shot again] Not so sure.
4) Not all the key players have a good understanding of these technologies as we do. They have to react in a way that our client's wish us to in reaction to concerns raised by press/public. So, while we may understand that context is not the same in digital as it may be in print or on TV our clients and other civil servants don't necessarily. The imperative is to go into damage limitation mode, rather than lose trust in the medium altogether and therefore harm potential future digital communication activity, while we work behind the scenes to persuade and sooth.

So, overall I don't disagree with your post/points, but I don't entirely agree with your angle. I think it is to the benefit of society that we take steps forwards and backwards as necessary to ensure the integrity or the messages we are conveying to the users in all appropriate mediums.
Thanks for "as we do"! I hope to understand at least some but I know technologies have amazing power to transform in a positive way. That I know.

To answer your main point - yes, there is a balance but what's really important is effectively reaching audiences - that's your job.

Thinking 'appropriate mediums', well Games is a challenge and probably a good way to reach certain audiences, certainly it would have more metrics attached than doing Second Life would — but government ads run in titty mags Nuts and Zoo. As they should.

If tabloids and others are making your life difficult your bosses, and that eventually means Ministers should support you, not undermine you. Their public words would tend to suggest they're on your side but not when the Sunday Times/BBC/ScotlandOnSunday have 'exposes' to make.

More birth pangs of government 2.0

Public Sector Forums, which is a only forum, goes gangbusters today on one "wheeze" from the local council website (aka 'take-up') publicity campaign, run out of Whitehall [their bold]:

Take-Up Campaign's Accessibility-Busting Web Poll

[Whitehall's] 'Connect to Your Council' Take-Up Campaign is set to unleash its latest wheeze to get punters flocking to council websites: A national online competition to find England's 'favourite local attraction'.

The Pride of Place' poll, due to launch in a few weeks' time, will be accessed via council websites thus – so the thinking goes - 'raising awareness' of local authority online services.

The Campaign's PR agency, the Central Office of Information-owned Government News Network, are co-ordinating the nationwide poll. The GNN are in the throes of writing to every council urging them to do their bit and promote the poll prominently on their websites.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that web poll created by the Take-Up Campaign fails to comply with even the most basic web accessibility guidelines, having been purposely designed in a way which makes it impossible for certain users to access.

PSF point out some other problems with the Poll, which all sound fixable, such as use of Pop-Ups and lack of a link to another route to voting. [The latter is easy but easy to forget. We've added alternates to Google Maps page's content as we've discovered issues for some.]

It doesn't sound like a brilliantly executed Widget. Most notably, as PSF finds:

The guidance prepared for councils notes that "participants will be able to vote more than once" but "if possible votes will be limited to one per session to stop frivolous multiple votes". Very interesting...

But the biggest gap is missed — only council websites are being used (promoted to), as far as I can see. Thus missing the most obvious use for widgets. It's very unclear what possible reason there might be stopping making this more widely available - there's nothing to stop anyone using the code, although I'd be reluctant to use a unnecessary pop-up.

It's just like other netmarketing campaigns. Earlier this year Hasbro through Monopoly ran one in the UK as they have elsewhere, making use of town pride. They didn't have a widget though, so we had to plug it in other ways on our council site. Got lots of hits!

With accessibility, this is an acknowledged problem with Web 2.0, given the reliance on JavaScript and the lack of proper tools.

Thoughtfulness - alternative routes to voting - and engagement with your audience helps but there are basic issues which yelling doesn't fix. This blog tool, for example, could easily build in accessibility fixes to authoring tools. They haven't.

None of this should stop Web 2.0 and can't. PSF's tone suggests some think it should. Widgets can be made more accessible so advocates should talk to industry if they aren't already. If a provider advertises themselves as 'accessible' or at least being inclusive and making real efforts, people should flock there.

I'm referred to the Connect to your council media plan (PDF, 430kb)

And notice that they're saying in a section on Google that:

As in phase two of activity, relevant Google key-words will be purchased for the duration of phase two of the Campaign. Keywords are used to target the Campaign home page to potential customers who enter relevant search terms and improve advertising performance accordingly by making a top Google search listing.

In terms of overall Campaign strategy, it is recognised that the majority of referrals to council websites come from Google. This is reflected in the low key approach adopted for Campaign branding, with creative executions designed to:

• make councils the 'heroes' of the advertising;
• create a call to action;
• build the association between councils and the services represented;
• Communicate the online message.

I don't understand exactly what they mean here except that there's no branding or creativity in your keywords ads! But this should give notice that in key areas Council landing pages connected to certain terms may have some traffic redirected.

A lot of councils (most definitely not all) are #1 on key terms right now. So what are those terms? Would help stop double-bidding for one thing.

I've posted before about the issue of fine-tuning with keywords bidding.

And it turns out I can now actually ask these sorts of questions directly as those responsible for the 'Take-Up campaign' can now be addressed directly! In public space! Sort of!

Very discreetly on Monday the Department for Communities and Local Government rolled out it's new 'Have Your Say' web 2.0/social networking/most of the shebang website (yes, there's a tagcloud).

It's public facing and according to the - hard-to-find, more later - instructions posts will be read by civil servants. And responded to. It appears they mass signed up circa 2500 of the lucky 'policy officers' straight off and they appear to have added another 1000 users since yesterday.

We value your opinions and undertake to publish all comments, so long as they do not break the discussion rules outlined in our terms and conditions. Please ensure that you read the terms and conditions before posting a message. All comments you post on this site will be read by relevant policy officials, who will also take part in each debate.

Please note: That some topics will run for a specified time period and then close. Closed topics will remain available to read in our archive.

'Famine to feast' as I just emailed. It's not really a forum for other government web workers to talk to them through, although we could.

The introduction doesn't say that it's just for one class of people, so how the civil servants actually cope if it takes off like the Number Ten petitions, I'm not sure. It appears to be a fairly generic and 'beta' terms and conditions/introduction and use will change it to be much clearer on how contributions actually work.

It's not 'about us' and the only way to find it is via the 'home' link, which only appears on the Forums pages. This adds to my impression of it being kindof out-of-the-box web 2.0. Not properly introduced or explained but all working and well-styled.

It's a very good start and worth noting that very few other governments are doing this that I'm aware of.

They promise wikis and more and have one blog they're hosting thus far, which leads to a very good Olympics Authority blog which looks and acts like a blog and has got top brass contributing.

Lastly in egov Whitehall vs. local government updates, their advice on usability and other basics for web workers is finally available again, a simple lack of a redirect blocked it for many months.

It's a bugbear of mine when smaller governments manage to provide their hard-pressed and under-resourced web workers with proper advice and help. As far as I can tell, this is all Whitehall has planned for UK workers and it's already partly out of date plus the attitudes on display are distinctly unhelpful.

It's instructive that despite top-down, much publicised instructions to cull public websites in the name of 'transformation', web workers are offered endless specialist sites and forums, most of which have no traffic, a fair few of which are abandoned, defunded, and endless 'help' which is really aimed at bean-counters and bureaucrats and not the front-line.

The FAQ answering the question posed by amongst others me — Whilst accessibility requirements and guidelines are well documented there seems to be very little information available regarding usability. Can you please give some authorative [sic] sources for usability requirements and guidelines? — is really bad. Usability is essential to anything claiming to be 'customer-focussed' and about 'transformation' and the entire tone is take-it-or-leave-it.

The answer, written by Nomensa I assume, a usability company contracted by Whitehall, claims that: "no usability guideline is black and white, and the context and users have to be taken into consideration."

Whoever wrote this has a vested interest, pushing their expertise— are they really saying that someone like Jakob Nielsen doesn't make basic, apply to all, guidance? That ordinary web workers have nothing to learn from Nielsen or any of the others in my links list? That only filtered and packaged government-approved usability guidance is kosher?

This goes to the heart of the problem about our alleged specialness as websites ... leading people to believe that norms don't apply to them because they're an egov site is a big mistake.
"Other guidelines will tend to be generic, i.e. unhelpful and potentially open to a great deal of interpretation for someone without usability expertise.

I think the best advice is to use the CDs provided and come back to the helpdesk to fill in any gaps or answer any remaining questions."
You come back to me, darling. If our guidance isn't usable is confusing you. Can't do anything yourself, you need the professionals. You'd think they were selling used cars ...

Here's a link to my presentation about how, yes, YOU can do some of this yourself. The use of Homer Simpson on the first slide is very deliberate.

Postscript: Doh! I've posted about SlideShare several times - here's the presentation using SlideShare! n.b. some images have been lost in the translation.


Postscript: just saw a great 404:

The page title is 'technorati is borked again'.

Pegah Emambakhsh update

Stop press: Italian and French campaign sites are reporting that she's been saved, reprinting a message from the 'Friends of Pegah Campaign'.

Today is the day when the UK Government was planning to deport Pegah Emambakhsh, an Iranian lesbian, to certain torture and possible death.

It now looks unlikely as they have been shamed by an international campaign, led by the Italian Government, involving protests at UK embassies.

Venice, in particular, has offered her refuge. The Mayor, Massimo Cacciari, saying:
"In its recent past Venice has already been a refugee-town for persecuted people, and within this tradition it is ready to host the Iranian woman, at least for the first period of time: the city of Venice, in cooperation with other bodies committed to save Pegah Emambakhsh, places a secure living facility at the woman's disposal.

"By launching this appeal and offer, I am certain I am expressing a common feeling of the whole town and its traditional culture."
Interesting that, Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, similar historic home to and friend of exiles and the persecuted, hasn't joined this campaign yet.

(Requires RealPlayer)
Note to BBC: this ^^^ is how to distribute content.

On Monday, Italian MPs and several Ministers were amongst those protesting outside the British Embassy in Rome. Campaigners say that they were told by an Embassy official that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown “is paying particular attention to the case of the Iranian refugee” and that the British Government is approaching the case with a solution that respects the conventions for the Human Rights”. This might be because, according to Barbara Pollastrini, the equal opportunities minister, Prime Minister Romano Prodi, is following the case.

Two years ago, UK Gay News ran the headline “Ashamed To Be British” on an article about how a gay Algerian was treated over an asylum application.

Ms. Emambakhsh’s asylum application was said by her supporters to have been denied by the Home Office because she was not able to prove she was a lesbian.

The Guardian quoted a Home Office spokeswoman:
"All applications for asylum are carefully considered by trained caseworkers based on accurate up-to-date information, taking into account all the circumstances of an application. We examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return."
Presumably this is why these cases - which are shameful, I don't think there would be many British people who'd agree with sending gay people back 'home' to their possible death - keep happening. If you come from somewhere like Iran, how do you 'prove' you're a lesbian, and at risk?

Gordon Brown's support for LGBT has been questioned - his support has tended to involve voting the right way rather than visible support. He could do something about this image, and answer Romano Prodi, by publicly asking the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to take some meaningful steps with the rules and practice. Changing them would help stop this sort of episode happening again. And by not backing down when the right-wing tabloids start up.

Fab Gmail promo

Last month, we invited you to join the Gmail collaborative video, pull out your video cameras and help us imagine how an email message travels around the world. Two Rubik's cubes, a few jaunts in a bottle, beautiful sand animation, and one dog's trip to the Southernmost point of the continental US later, we'd received more than 1,100 fantastic clips from Gmail fans from more than 65 countries. It was impossible to fit all of the great submissions into one cut, but after hours of fun watching jugglers, firemen, camel-riders, and original animation, we edited highlights together into this video and used the Google Maps API to put together a map showing where many of the clips came from (you can also see these at<

The map bubbles include the clips used. Like so:

Tuesday, August 28

Widgets do have issues

I've updated my widget and, previously, added a Feedburner widget. Both are neat stuff.

The widget is Flash 4.0 I think and caused a print preview crash (was in IE6) on another PC for me today. That may well be availability - problem caused by an old Flash installation which the Network isn't ready to upgrade yet

Blog's waiting for Feedburner to load as I type, at Internet peaktime. Waiting, waiting ... make tea ...

I can find myself waiting for YouTube elements to load too.

This might be me and might be my network right now but the Amnesty widget, coming via them, not a third party, is showing me 'unavailable'. It's happened before. Too popular?

This is one of the less stated problems with widgets — availability and accessibility (in its widest sense).

I've previously dropped widgets (like Chimp-o-matic) which kept holding up pages (or the right-hand column); the market, especially the mass-market of bloggers, will be just as ruthless. Plus decisions will be as much about 'how much do I really need this?' as 'is there an alternative?'

Postscript: as I look at sorting a tagcloud, I notice this ... > Our dirty little secret: that's all been done on one single server. Many people have written us frustrated that we haven't been able to keep up with the demand, and they've been correct. We're happy to announce that we are now sponsored ...

Monday, August 27

Paxman's involuntary elitism

The Guardian comments today about Jeremy Paxman's MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival:

Listened to live, his speech - Never Mind the Scandals: What's it All For? - had a far greater impact than any reported version could convey. This is because it was really a condensation of three separate lectures rolled into one, a passionate and deeply personal cri de coeur about the current state of television, from a master practitioner.
Yet The Guardian is the one making only two clips of the speech available on it's YouTube channel, the second of which makes Paxman sound like he's having a go at the Net (funny, that choice for this channel).

This was from shortly before the clip:
I feel uncomfortable saying this, because I know that some colleagues may take it as an attack upon them. So let me say that I think the young people entering television now are more technically able, more visually creative than at any time in the short history of the medium. I admire them, not least because I have no idea how they do half the things they do. My point about the vaccuousness of much news reporting is not to lay into them, but to plead for them to be given the time and the space to do a better job and for all of to stand back and ask what we’re using this medium for.

More in context, Paxman did not comes across as a luddite; that's one tiny bit of the speech. He barely referred to the Net. On it's website, The Guardian makes no reference to the video, instead referring you to the text.

The other clip is about faking it:

Their partners at Edinburgh, the BBC, told us, after discussing Paxman's speech, on Friday's Newsnight that:
"You can see the whole of Jeremy's speech on the Newsnight website"

'Read' isn't the same as ' see' in my book. Here's the old fashioned text. When the video is available, this stuff is elitist behavior. I'm not impressed and neither should you be.

The Guardian's 'highlights' selection, the lack of the speech in it's entirety online when the live context is important. The industry was there applauding - at what? - and silent - at what? Maybe I'd like to know how they reacted when Paxman drew attention to Tony Blair calling journalists "feral beasts" that tear people and reputations to shreds?
I found the media’s response – and particularly the response of the television industry - to the Blair challenge pretty depressing. Hardly anyone engaged with the substance of the criticisms – of our triviality, our short-sightedness, our preoccupation with conflict. The immediate and almost universal reaction was not to examine the charge sheet, but to utter a blanket plea of ‘not guilty’, usually followed by well, you misled us about WMD, as if that somehow entitles us to say whatever we like. Well, it won’t do.
The industry were there because the event was important. Who wasn't there? Us.

I would have liked to have seen the clip of Paxman saying this:
Just look at almost any regional news programme, with its tawdry catalogue of misfortune, recited in deadbeat vocabulary. You’d think that every child in the city was being sexually abused, every journey every day disrupted, resulting in ‘pure misery’, every teenager a drug-crazed psychopath. Does it alarm? Sure. Does it help us understand? You must be joking.
Or this:
Take, for example, the outbreak of bird flu in Suffolk this spring. The thing was contained and dealt with effectively. There was no panic, except in so far as it was generated by television news coverage. An expensively coiffed presenter is driven up to Suffolk to stand in a field in the vague vicinity. A helicopter is put up so a reporter can speak of the incident as if it was the scene of a major tank battle.

For me the nadir was an interview with a woman who owned a chicken coop. The reporter knew what was wanted. ‘We have a dead chicken over there,’ the woman wailed. ‘Whether that chicken was knocked down by a car, we don’t know.’

And that was it. There was a dead chicken in Suffolk. Cause of death unknown. What, precisely was this chicken’s owner interviewed for?

There are plenty of definitions of news. But whether you subscribe to the view that it is something out of the ordinary, or – my own favourite – that it is something someone doesn’t want you to know - the fact that a chicken has died in Suffolk, possibly after colliding with a car, doesn’t cut it.