New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, April 5

Martin Luther King on Vietnam: "Don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force "

Helter Skelter X

Former Democratic and now Libertarian candidate for President, Senator Mike Gravel, has run the most YouTube of YouTube candidacies. He's far more engaged with it and comprehending of how it works than Ron Paul ever was.

I posted (with video) before about how he called Americans "fat and dumb" in one of the debates.

But his latest video is by far the strangest, most left-field of the campaign thus far. Yes, that's Helter Skelter as in the Beatles. Genius.


Mehdi is back in UK

Mehdi Kazemi was returned from Rotterdam on Friday and processed then released at Heathrow. He's now in the care of his uncle somewhere in the South-East.

Out of detention is great but he hasn't won yet. Free in one very important sense, but not in another

More about Mehdi and the campaign and how you can support him on the new website.

Clay Shirky on Colbert Report

Not a Stephen Colbert fan (shiver) but he does have some interesting guests (and he roasted GW Bush, to his face).

Friday, April 4

Zimbabwe: calm with a purpose

Don’t be conned Zimbabwe. Stand firm. Don’t give Mugabe the excuse that he is looking for and that is to provoke a violent confrontation which he can then use to legitimise using force to steal your rights.

Mugabe is like a pimp or a gun-toting drug dealer; someone who puts a lot of stock in ‘control’ and ‘face’. He needs to swagger and look fierce and tough and strong. He thinks boasting about “degrees in violence” or “coming down hard on the opposition” is smart and strong. But really, he’s just a brat. The people who admire that in him are mindless fools who can’t distinguish between ‘bullying’ and ’strength’.

He really is nothing more than an old man who has come to the end of his years on this earth by fighting his own people. And that’s fairly pathetic, if you ask me. I can only hope that what we’re experiencing tonight is more of the same Mugabe swigger-swagger-strut-stuff.

I am determined to not let Mugabe scare me. I plan to try to consciously hold my nerve in the face of his horrible bullying of our nation - and God knows it probably will be a rough ride and cruel. (What do we expect? This is Mugabe we’re talking about!) But I / we all have important work to do and we can’t afford the distractions that fear brings to the table. Freedom is so close I can almost taste it.
Hope posting for Sokwanele

Zimbabwe blogs for information

Thursday, April 3

Mehdi Kazemi: On his way back : Dutch "We have confidence in a good outcome"

Conservative State Secretary of Justice, Nebahat Albayrak
In an emergency debate in the Dutch Parliament Lower House this afternoon the conservative State Secretary of Justice, Nebahat Albayrak, confirmed that the gay Iranian, Mehdi Kazemi, will be returned to the UK.

The debate was the initiative of the liberal D66 party. They found enough support in parliament on Tuesday from the GroenLinks (Green), ChristenUnie (centrist), PVV (conservative), SP (left) and PvdA (social democrats, sister party of the British Labour Party) opposition parties to secure today's debate. The PvdA agreed to open the debate.

The Dutch have a policy to not return gay refugees to Iran.

Figures quoted in the parliament by Boris van der Ham, the D66 (liberal) MP, who has led the defence of Kazemi amongst MPs, show that only 38-40 gay people have been granted asylum under this policy since 2006, when an attempt was made to repeal it.

Albayrak said:
"I defend those policies with conviction."
Dutch opposition parties were concerned that the British were not offering any guarantees of asylum for Mehdi and so that policy would therefore be breached "through the back door".

"There is no guarantee”, said SP MP Jan de Wit. "This is indispensable for my group."

"Gays are at risk to suffer from the terrible and barbaric regime in Iran", argued PVV MP Fritsma Sietse.

"Iranian gays can count on 110 lashes of the whip, sometimes to death, " said Boris van der Ham.

Dutch opposition MP, Boris van der Ham
Van der Ham presented new information to the parliament about the increased persecution of homosexuals in Iran which was published last week by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

He requested that
Albayrak bring the new HRW information to the attention of her European counterparts - including Jacqui Smith - as well as the Iranian ambassador to the Netherlands and he wants to know what action the Dutch ambassador to Iran is taking.

The opposition had argued that Albayrak should depart from a European agreement that Kazemi must apply for asylum in the first country he arrives in and instead receive asylum in the Netherlands.
Albayrak said that agreeing to this would undermine work for a common European asylum policy.

"Dan snijden we onszelf in de vingers", said Albayrak. "Then we cut ourselves in the fingers."

As well, a
request for guarantees could also be interpreted as a sign of mistrust.
"I have no indication that England does not respect international treaties."

Albayrak said:
"I am confident that England, even in this case, will comply with the treaty obligations. I have talked to the British Secretary of State [Home Secretary Jacqui Smith,] and she told me that this person is being reconsidered, and that they are taking into account the new facts, such as the fact of the publicity in Iran, now everybody knows that this man is homosexual. This case has my personal attention and I will continue to follow the procedure. "
However the opposition expressed strong skepticism in relying on British asylum procedures.

Albayrak said that granting asylum could bring more gay asylum seekers to the Netherlands. Henk Kamp representing the party of controversial MP Geert Wilders, VVD, and others also suggested that approving asylum would lead to a flood of gay asylum seekers.

Activists report that several members of the government expressed their support for granting asylum for Mehdi in private but the political block system of voting, analogous to 'whipping' in the UK parliament, meant that the vote following the debate could not be won.

However there was majority support for
Albayrak to keep them informed of the progress of Kazemi through the British asylum system and for the Netherlands to call for a European policy of not returning gays and Christians to Iran.

Dutch activists supporting Kazemi say that the requirement is that 48 hours expire before he is returned to the UK, however van der Ham says he may be returned as early as Friday 4th.

Prior to the debate the Dutch gay group COC Netherlands and the action group 'Help Seyed Mehdi Kazemi' had presented in the square outside the Lower House building a 800 signature petition, gathered during the past fortnight, to van der Ham to pass on to Albayrak.

COC reports that, failing a positive outcome from the British asylum process, a lawyer has been found to begin proceedings at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Zimbabwe Embassy phone call prank

From a South African radio station. Hat-tip: Sokwanele - Zvakwana.

More great Zapiro cartoons.

Wednesday, April 2

Share the dream!


Hat-tip; Richard Watts

And Tango Makes Three!

I'm always amazed at the blind hate which anything to do with same-gender love and kids engenders.

There's a story today in the Mail about a school in Bristol which withdrew this lovely looking book (Reading level: Ages 4-8) because lots of parents complained ("fury!" why is it always "fury!") about supposedly introducing their kids to 'sex'.

Huh? Have any of them seen the book?

Here's a review by Andie A., Minnesota, age 10

And Tango Makes Three is a wonderful book about two male penguins named Silo and Roy adopting an egg that came to be Tango. It's also about two male penguins doing what the other penguin couples do, but using a rock for an egg and finally getting a real egg that hatched Tango the baby penguin. It takes place in New York City in Central Park Zoo. It was written in 2005, so not too long ago. There were so many newspaper articles about it, and the authors thought it would make a good picture book. The zookeeper got the egg from another penguin couple that had two eggs and only could take care of one, so the zookeeper gave the other one to Silo and Roy. So that's how Silo and Roy became Tango's daddies.

And Tango Makes Three is a wonderful book. I'd recommend it for people ages 3 to 9. It's also fun for teachers and parents. It has lots of information about penguins. It's based on a true story. I like And Tango Makes Three so much.
Isn't that sweet? And it's a true story!

Roy and Silo were a very famous couple of penguins! For six years they 'pair-bonded' as biologists call it. Silo left Roy for Strappy in 2005 :{ But now they're back together :}
The pair were observed trying to hatch a rock as if it were an egg. When the zoo staff realized that Roy and Silo were both male, it occurred to them to give them the second egg of a mixed-gender penguin couple, a couple which previously had been unable to successfully hatch two eggs at a time. Roy and Silo hatched and raised the healthy young chick, a female named "Tango" by keepers

They exhibit what in penguin parlance is called ''ecstatic behavior'': that is, they entwine their necks, they vocalize to each other, they have [gulp] sex.

[Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name] Before them, the Central Park Zoo had Georgey and Mickey, two female Gentoo penguins who tried to incubate eggs together. And Wendell and Cass, a devoted male African penguin pair, live at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.
And this ''ecstatic behavior'' is all pretty normal for animals!

These two are obviously having a 'love spat' ...

What is wrong with people who just see 'sex! sex! sex!' all the time? Yes, the complainants were 'religious' :{ What view of the world around them do they want kids to have ... oh yes, that one ... All the bad reviews object to a zoo keeper saying "they must be in love."


And what do the mummies and daddies reading about this fuss in a teacup think? Readers?

Google Reader clips catch up

Way behind with a catch-up, so a long list :[

Also: This was released on April 1st, but is apparently serious! Antarctic Polar Bear Relocation to Begin on Earth Day. Some Americans want to move thousands of them to the edge of the Ross Sea near Emperor Penguin colonies trapped by recent movement of giant icebergs . Nothing on the site about unexpected impacts - like happened with rabbits and foxes in Oz. Project is supported by oil drillers ('we're fed up being attacked') and 'Americans for tax reform' ... and lots and lots of American 'liberals'. Gore has his work cut out.

Facebook and Metcalfe's law

According to Jakob Nielsen

We are getting close to the bursting of Bubble 2.0, so it's a good idea to review some of the precursors of Bubble 1.0.

In 1999, I wrote an article "Metcalfe's Law in Reverse" about the problems of so-called walled gardens, where a service cuts itself off from the Internet and tries to add value by being closed.


[He said: 'Current attempts to split the Web into many isolated mini-networks undermine the long-term potential of the Internet which depends on universal interconnection.']

Facebook and the current generation of social networks are trying to replicate the walled garden strategy that failed ten years ago. It'll fail again.

Mirror to be the first national newspaper killed by the web?

I always notice what the Mirror's up to simply because I used to work for their boss, Sly Bailey, who's one of the most prominent women in business now.

I can still visualise that 'caught in headlights' crossed with bland arrogance look she had from the days when NME publisher IPC Media lost a s**tload of cash in the dotcom boom. Mainly because they took the bland assurances of the sorts of webbie reptiles which flourished then at face value ... and forgot web basics and weren't interested anyhoo.

She's now been with the Mirror for years and has tolerated the most amateurish website on Fleet St also for years. Classic 'La La, I'm not listening' activity ... She never learnt a thing in eight years, it appears.

Just like Michael Grade and ITV, it sounds like she's still getting this back to front. You get the eyeballs, that gives you the revenue. Murdoch got that way back. Conclusion: will the Mirror be the first national newspaper killed by the web?

Trinity Mirror has acquired online web design and development consultancy Rippleffect Studio as part of a plan to diversify revenue streams and increase its interest in sport and leisure media.
The company was bought for an initial £3.2 million with a further £2.6 million conditional on success over the next three years.
Its clients already include Everton, Southampton, Celtic and Fulham football clubs, along with a host of other leisure retail groups.
The acquisition enables Trinity to branch into e-marketing and link other online services with its existing printed sports publications, which includes match-day programmes for several Premier League football clubs.
"This acquisition brings together Trinity Mirror's specialist sports publications and Rippleffect's specialist sports web development under one roof enabling us to substantially grow our revenues in this important sector," said Sly Bailey, Trinity Mirror CEO.
Rippleffect is expected to generate revenues of around £3 million in its first year of ownership, Trinity said in a press release.
All too late for the paper ...

Hat tip:

Americans views of British influence: what the heck is going on?

The annual review by the BBC World Service of world opinion of country's influence headlines improving views of the United States, but I noticed a nugget in it which seems to have been missed: Americans dislike UK 'influence' more than almost anyone - and that's increasing.

Positive views of Britain have slipped considerably in the United States (45%, down from 67%) while negative views have increased significantly (42%, up from 18%).
In the graph image to the right the US view of Britain is second from the top.

Overall, says the report:
Views of Britain remain largely positive and have grown more positive over the last year. Among those countries polled in both years, on average positive views have grown from 46 per cent to 50 per cent, while negative views have fallen from 29 per cent to 24 per cent. Views improved significantly in 13 countries and worsened in three.

Out of 23 countries that evaluated Britain in 2007 and 2008, 16 have most saying their view is mainly positive, while in four the most common view is mainly negative (down from six in 2007) and three are divided.

Notable increases in positive views of Britain have occurred in predominantly Muslim publics, including the UAE (54%, up from 31%), Turkey (36%, up from 21%), and Lebanon (39%, up from 32%). Views of Britain are also considerably more favourable among South Koreans (77%, up from 61%) and the Chinese (56%, up from 49%).

Positive views are up considerably in France (54%, up from 44%) while negative views are down (21%, falling from 42%) so that now a majority says they view Britain positively. Italians also show marked improvement in their views of Britain (70%, up from 56%), as do Australians (72%, up from 60%) and Kenyans (85%, up from 74%).

Positive views have also fallen in Russia (43%, down from 55%), Portugal (56%, down from 65%), and in India (22%, down from 37%), but the overall view of Britain’s influence remains positive.

Among publics polled for the first time this year, views of Britain are largely positive, with this being the most common view in Ghana (69%), Israel (67%), Spain (55%), Japan (39%), and publics of Central America (31%).

What da heck is going on, Mr Milliband?

NSFW: Clinton 2.0: She's F**king Obama

Tuesday, April 1

Mehdi Kazemi update: April 1st - may be back in UK Monday

News from the Netherlands that Mehdi - the 19 year old gay Iranian under threat of deportation to likely execution - may be returned to the UK on Monday.

He has said to visitors and his Dutch lawyer that he would rather remain in Holland - and for very obvious reasons.

Despite Jacqui Smith's forced statement, he does not trust the British Government and is very scared. Here, there is precedent with the case of the Iranian lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh. A major campaign last year involving Romano Prodi and offers of refuge by two Italian cities have not stopped the Home Office making continuing efforts to deport her.

This all just underlines that Mehdi is not safe yet and won't be until the final end game is played out and he actually has asylum. Please continue to sign the international petition and the petition to Gordon Brown and write your support. > More

What has held up deportation to the UK from the detention centre outside Rotterdam where he is have been the actions of Dutch opposition MP, Boris van der Ham (pictured).

Although the Minister has decided to send him back, van der Ham has forced a parliamentary debate over the lack of British government assurances. This was due to happen tomorrow, Wednesday 2nd, but now appears likely to be on Friday because of the commotion over the Fitna film about Islamism.

Once that is rejected - which is being assumed will happen as the government will have a majority - they have to wait a couple of days to actually do the deed.

Says van der Ham:

The Netherlands has for a few years had a policy that gays (and Christians) are not returning to Iran because of the great dangers.

If he is rejected again by Britain, the Netherlands will be, in my eyes, complicit in a high risk for this boy.

Number Ten, rollingstones, upyerbrum!

The Number Ten website has just started a Twitter feed - which egov Minister Tom Watson says is already invaluable (as you might imagine).

It's claimed to be the first by a Great Leader but there are existing ones for both GW Bush and Aussie PM Kevin Rudd (I think they mightn't be your actual leaders though ... ).

They've also launched a Flickr account and the early set of tags made me laugh out loud and think of William Burroughs and cut-ups, yet again ...

Leadership in egov: what's missing?

Compared to what we're used to, egov Minister Tom Watson is a breath of fresh air.

A number of people have examined today's speech by him and interim report on last year's landmark The Power of Information report.

Simon Dickson is struck by Tom's call for:

more use of techniques commonplace now in the wider world, internal blogs, wikis, discussion forums, shared workspaces, all still quite rare within the machine.
And in the report it's amusing claim that
The government supported a Barcamp initiated by the Ministry of Justice.
Well at least they didn't claim 'initiated' ...

Simon Wheatley:
It’s very heartening stuff and Tom hits many buzzwords, let’s hope he has the power and gets the support to deliver on some of these ideas.
The problem is they are playing catchup, which is a long way away from the innovation that they need to be showing. But it's all good - really good.
Dave Briggs also notes Tom's promotion of blogging by civil servants and picks up on Tom's analogy about:
the relationship between online collaborative communities and the co-operative movement. The point is that while the tools are new, the relationships aren’t, and people have been working together to tackle problems since the year dot. What the tools do is make the process easier and more transparent and because they also make it easier to do without forming institutions or organisations, they also remove some of the political undercurrents too. More needs to be written on this, I think.
I smiled at Tom's memory of using an old 'manual duplication machine' (a Roneo). Ink stains ain't missed. I groaned at reading about Netmums yet again. I was pleased to see talk of 'search insight' but disturbed that this appeared new and came from a chance encounter with a DirectGov employee.

There is the use of the word 'radical' in Tom's speech - which we know from Yes Minister as code for 'doomed'. But Tom is the first egov Minister who has got a clue, so he's the best hope thus far.

Can't see any of this translating easily to local government because lgov and whitehall are different beasts. Be interesting to see if lgov Minister Hazel Blears in her briefly mentioned (dismissively?) due follow-up exactly echoes Tom and offers leadership or loses some stuff along the way - and in the translation. Her bog-standard, out-of-the-box Labour website certainly doesn't bode well, neither does her record thus far.

Echoing SimonR, my sole problem with The Power of Information is: is that it? Is this the only landmark eGov report we're going to see? I can think of several areas besides the specific ones in that report which could equally 'shake things up'. MySociety is part of a particular area within egov: it ain't everything. And we do tend to accept crumbs of movement rather than say 'where's the cake?'

As I have said before, the Tom's in power should invite Jakob Nielsen (or Don Norman) around for tea. It's that sort of commercial experience which - excepting pilgrimages to the Googleplex for a photo-op - isn't being heard and encouraging those connections within egov to help break down the walled garden would truly end the circularity of public servants talking to other public servants (or their contractors).

Gore's $300m Pres. campaign intervention for the earth

Al Gore launched a huge multi-million dollar advertising campaign on 60 Minutes (US Primetime current affairs) on Sunday. He calls climate-change deniers 'flat-earthers'. Here's the report:

Having previously posted 'Climate Change nowhere in US Elections and the world should worry' all I can say is thank g*d.

Here's their first advert, which is going on American Idol amongst others:

And here's the website where you can find out more about it - and one big reason why it's needed:

Urge the Press to Ask About Global Warming
The press has been asking the presidential candidates hundreds of questions on a range of issues, but seldom asks about the greatest threat to our planet: the climate crisis. I want to know how the next President -- Democrat, Republican or Independent -- is going to address this critical issue. Don't you?
Please add your name to this petition and we will deliver it to the key media outlets. Together we can ensure this topic gets the attention it deserves.
A League of Conservation Voters’ study found that ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked presidential candidates more than 767 questions -- only 5 of which were related to global warming. CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked more than 402 questions -- only 5 were about global warming. Sadly, other political commentators and reporters have shown a similar disregard for this key issue.
It was also 'Earth Hour' on Saturday. It's a global campaign, launched by Sydney, where lights are turned off for an hour (8-9pm). Here's the advert for that:

More on the WWF website. And see YouTube for lots of 'ground-zero' videos by Aussies about the experience - looks like fun!

According to the BBC:
In Britain, 26 councils dimmed lights, as did Prince Charles' private residence, Highgrove House and Winchester cathedral.

On the south coast, Brighton turned off the lights on its pier, and in London - which was not officially involved - lights were turned down at City Hall.

In the Irish capital, Dublin, the floodlights were turned off at the Custom House, the home of the Environment Department.

But in the city's financial district many lights were left on.

"The banks should have embraced this wholeheartedly and they didn't," said Cathy Flanagan, an Earth Hour organiser in the city. "But it's a start. Maybe next year."
Capital Radio initiated a one-off 'lights out' in London last year, but it's hard to understand what's wrong with taking part on the same day as countless other cities in such a great global initiative.

What's getting worse for British gay people?

A couple of new reports show how life for many gay people in Britain is actually getting worse.

  • A landmark poll commissioned by Stonewall says school bullying is worse than twenty years ago - this ruins life chances
  • More gay men are acquiring HIV than ever before - ruining life expectancy.
Both of these run against the grain of assumptions: pass some laws and life improves. It's notable that Stonewall make a point of criticising 'smugness' over discrimination. It's certainly my experience than many people think that life for gay people isn't like 'what it used to be'. This isn't a 'glass half empty' argument, here's some numbers:
The YouGov poll of 1,658 gay adults found homophobic bullying in schools is more prevalent now than in previous decades. Two-thirds of lesbian and gay people under 19 said they were bullied at school on grounds of sexuality, compared with half of those aged 35-44 and only a quarter of those over 55.
Said Stonewall's Ben Summerskill:
Last spring we heard from a 14-year-old girl who had - incautiously - shared with a teacher at a faith school the thought that she might be gay. Subsequently the girl has been required to sit outside the changing room at the beginning and end of sports lessons while the 'normal' children get changed.
  • A significant minority of gay people expect to be treated less well at a GP surgery or during an emergency admission to hospital.
  • Around 30% of lesbian and gay people expect to encounter discrimination if they were to try to enrol a child at primary or secondary school, and 80% believe they would have difficulty if they were to apply to become a school governor.
  • One in four think they will be treated less fairly by police if they become a victim of hate crime.
  • One in five expect to find it harder than a heterosexual person to get social housing.
  • Nine in 10 expect barriers to becoming a foster parent.
  • Nearly nine in 10 think they would face such barriers to becoming an MP from the Conservative party, 61% from the Labour party and 47% from the Liberal Democrats.
The school experience chimes for me - I wasn't bullied, even when I came out (though my brother was). I had a experience last year around the housing issue when 'more houses for families!' was raised by a politician. This sounded exactly like 'there goes my slim chance' but when criticised the response involved the words 'political correctness'. Just because there are some gay families with kids doesn't mean most of us don't - and where does that leave us.

According to the Treasury's actuary department 6% of the population are gay, lesbian or transgender — 3.6 million people.

Last year Stonewall produced another landmark report which detailed not only how badly lesbians and gays fare in the BBC but just what that means — and it's linked to the school bullying issue.

What was notable about their report was that they interviewed as many heterosexual people and they wanted more characters and coverage.
  • Gay people are contributing almost £190 million every year towards BBC programming.
  • Gay people and their lives are five times more likely to be portrayed in negative terms on the BBC.
  • Gay life is most likely to appear in entertainment programmes, and is rarely featured in factual programmes, like documentaries and the news.
  • BBC programmes frequently use gay sexuality for making jokes or as an insult, and rely heavily on clichéd stereotypes.
Gay and straight people ... told us they wanted to see:
  • More documentaries to help everyone understand lesbian and gay lives - and not just ones focussing on negative issues.
  • More positive role models for young gay people.
  • More realistic and non-sensationalised/clichéd gay characters in soaps and drama.
  • A more diverse range of lesbian and gay identities, beyond the urban stereotypes.
The HIV numbers - highest ever in the UK - just make me scream. I'm not the only one, I've heard a number of gay men my age repeat on air that we can't believe we're going through this again.

One of the worst things I've seen recently which is not helping was a campaign on HIV last year by the BBC which was aimed at young heterosexuals - the focus, money and support for gay men is getting less, not more. That campaign (but most I see when I do see them) only vaguely addressed the persistent myth that 'well, there are pills for it now'. What's needed is much more hard-hitting.

My experience of the epidemic was in Australia and I still haven't dealt with it properly: I lost dozens of friends and 'survivor guilt' as a HIV- gay man of my generation is very real. Within the community here as well as there I was and am sick of hearing HIV+ men dominating the debate. Being HIV- is not a promoted identity here and never has been. By contrast in Australia they had a real debate and formed a proper relationship and coalition, as part of a prevention strategy. When I did this work it was impossible to raise the sort of issues Australia has since dealt with.

Here, there couldn't be a greater contrast. The horror of 'barebacking' is defended when it should be shouted down. I can well understand 'condom fatigue' and there should be wariness about blaming gay men (when straight men are just as bad about condoms) and especially blaming HIV+ men, but HIV kills people and neither is an excuse for avoiding hard-hitting.

All the drugs do is extend life expectancy from extremely low to less than average — I tried finding some figures and couldn't but from memory it's maybe 21 years, so if you're 21 expect to die at 42. When did you (or I) see a message pointing that out? And when, by contrast, did you see lots of stories about people walking around after twenty years. They should be proud of themselves because that takes work, but this emphasis makes me angry because there are many others who aren't walking around. HIV is a bastard virus.

April Fool funny - with a message

About / more

BBC News redesign: Can someone powerful please yell at them?

The BBC News website is extremely popular, so it's not surprising that yesterday's BBC Internet blog post about it's redesign attracted over 1000 comments - this must be a record?

The News Website Editor, Steve Herrmann, explains the changes in terms of doing some research and asking people what they wanted changing (and heard what it appears they wanted to hear):

But it was also clear from the feedback we got that there were others who thought the site design could do with a bit of a revamp – something we’d been thinking about doing for a while.
The specific changes he focuses on are:
  • the changed width - because 95% of screens are wider
  • more open design - to make it easier to scan
  • new masthead - which is about cross-site branding
  • bigger images - from user feedback and 'the power of pictures in telling stories on the web'
  • space for adverts - for the international audience
  • space for embedded media
  • incorporation of TV and radio current affairs content
Several of these make sense in terms of usability issues which have been known about and well understood for years - such as better use of pictures.

A number of comments from other developers than me point out that the accessibility was obviously not a factor in the redesign, not just in terms of requiring that it meet WC3 but that it appears it wasn't cross-browser tested. A redesign should be improving accessibility.

This is truly unacceptable and I hope the accessibility movement and organisations for disabled people scream their tits off about it. The BBC is in a leadership role with its website and it has huge resources. Someone, somewhere decided to ignore this. Who were they? Was it Herrmann?

I had a quick look at the very prominently featured 'accessibility help' and it's a link to 'my web my way', which is about 'the web', not the BBC News website.

This features a 'change colours and text size' button - absent on the website and a lot of 'rah rah' for the BBC from selected disabled comments. I understand that it is better than other websites and that many disabled users are grateful for some attention, but when most commercial websites pay no attention and - for me - when Council + Whitehall websites (which are the best) get hauled over coals when they're not 100% perfect the BBC can indeed 'do better' (as they would undoubtedly put it).

A number of other comments point to a design-led rather than user-led process, such as the choice of the Verdana font, unfluid design and the wasted top banner space.

I would add a couple of things to what others have already said which add to the design-led feeling.

1. Because of the redesign, the left-side navigation bars are now too close together. Combined with the on-focus colour change this would definitely cause issues for users who have trouble using a mouse - it fails 'the mom test'. I don't know what's gained from keeping the on-focus, either.

2. Removing links from the page is design-centred rather than user-centred. This pushes people towards search, which is an issue for most sites to do well and certainly is not very good on the BBC site. This is why you always need alternative navigation routes, like a site map. I know from doing this process that there is always pressure to remove links but when you test you can easily make both an 'uncluttered' look'n'feel, which is really about removing visual distraction, as well as providing more options both for navigation and content. Look at the Guardian's recent redesign - does that look 'cluttered'? Everything about the redesign process as explained appears to be dominated by this idea.

Overall, I'm disturbed that, from the BBC's presentation of it's News site redesign it's fairly clear that it wasn't led by usability - making the website more useful - but a whole lot of other factors which pushed user-focus aside. Changes aren't explained in terms of testing results and rarely about becoming more useful. I can imagine what actually happened from the mentions in the BBC blog post about some of those other factors, as well as from previous blog posts which mention terrible ideas like coding from photoshop designs - the very essence of being 'design-led'.

In the first response to the blog comments by the head of 'design and user experience', none of the accessibility issues are responded to and the 'technical' issues are referred to the 'technical team'. She also gives the very strong impression of being prepared to change design elements from blog responses and this response in particular really makes me think they're 'design-led':
We added the extra white space because a number of users told us, through surveys, listening labs and usability tests, that the previous design was starting to look "cluttered" and "busy".
This isn't the language of someone responding to test results and producing a user-led redesign - or even, to cut her some slack, of someone communicating process to non-tekkies.

Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with how this happens and how this works having fought too many losing battles - power and who has it is an real issue in defending the bloody user in web design.

That an organisation the size of the BBC is still behaving in web development this way in 2008 requires someone powerful outside the BBC to yell at them to do this stuff properly. Perhaps Cameron could add this to his BBC websites critique? And perhaps someone could do a FOI request for the process documentation so we can see exactly who's responsible rather than make educated guesses?

Dan G has more:
Something very strange is happening in the BBC webdesign department.

One of his comments takes him to task for his own coding and design - so I expect something similar.

Just to say, I don't care. It's a bit ad hominem ... (although I am interested to know if something plain isn't working, which I understand can be the case with some video servers).

I had one of these to my post 'BBC Blogs: Why bother?', which got hundreds of visits via the BBC Blog post which specifically mentioned it.
Please have a Flash bypass (you do not have it now) as there are many businesses, mine included, that will not allow Flash. Without the bypass we will not be able to see your videos.
Flash tracks, by IP address, every use of it and puts the information together into a report for its subscribers. Please show some respect for the intelligence and privacy of your readers.
I am glad to see you finally got rid of the 3cm wide blank band near the top.
I will investigate this but it's news to me (I don't read all the technical news all the time), so it's not about disrespect. Further, the past design was Blogger off-the-shelf. This one is 'off the shelf' tweaked. Did I ever claim it was perfect? And I'd rather spend time researching posts than - basically - fussing with design or coding in order to impress, who?

I would say that a business blocking Flash is stupid. Video is a business tool and to over-block (to stop YouTube time-wasting) is short-sighted. Sounds like someone was sold a filter package and they didn't tell them what the side-effects would be — all too familiar.

More about that in this post: How to disable web filter software.

Update: The BBC Sports Editor has commented further here.
Our audience research cannot just be confined to this blog. We have been working for months to develop an approach that works for our users and gives them a more dynamic sport website, now and in the future. This was considered research and usability testing - which was used by a team of technical, design and editorial experts to help define this new-look website.
But how was it used? And what happened with accessibility?

And this post is sitting prominently in the 'blog reaction' column next to the reactions post on the BBC Internet Blog, sending me hundreds of hits again. And I'm not getting any furiously disagreeing readers ...