Archive for October, 2008

Two Soccerlens columns in a week? Gary is indeed elsewhere.

Over at Soccerlens: A quick bit from me on the probable demise of Leigh Genesis.

It’s never nice to see fans suffer, and in this case it’s really hard seeing how the club can survive, but it’s really not a massive surprise they’re now in such a massive financial mess.

It’s not all bad, this interweb thing

Two excellent, interesting, a very different posts that are worth flagging up.

Firstly, Sarah Evans on Mashable on the ten best social media tools for journalists and PRs. It’s a bit US centric but there’s a couple of the list I use from time to time, and I’d especially love to get more people into working with wikis, as there’s so much potential there.

Even if you’re not planning on using any of them, it’s worth a look just to get an idea of the tools and sites that are available.

On a completely and utterly different note, POLIS director Charlie Beckett asks if, in relation to journalism, we can trust the internet. It’s a fascinating read that, if I had more time, I’d have liked to blog a bit further about. There’s small points I disagree with, but his conclusion is one I’d go along with.

Terrorising Twitter

Pesky things, terrorists. They have a habit of misappropriating everyday useful objects like cars, rucksacks and fertiliser for their own nefarious means and now, if a report from the US Army is to be believed, they’ve now added Twitter to that list.

The story, which circulated earlier in the week, brought a predictable amount of sarcasm from Twitter users (or at least the ones on my stream). It’s quite possible they use Twitter – and Facebook and MySpace and other social media communities.

But, especially with Twitter, even with locked updates, they’re hardly the most secure of sites to if you’re planning another 9/11. Given that marketing and PR professionals are pretty good at trawling these kind of sites for relevant users, you’d like to think it isn’t beyond the police force to do the same.

But what’s worrying isn’t necessarily the thought that Twitter could be used to blow us up (and I’m sure they’ve got plenty of other methods of communication that a microblogging service used by geeks, PRs and early adopters). No, it’s the fact that we’re seeing a lot more of these kind of stories just as the government is making ever more frequent noises about internet regulation.

Much of the coverage is fairly unquestioning – possibly because it ticks a couple of fashionable news angles, in fear and an emerging new fad. But a lot of it is built on pure speculation. Take these paragraphs from the BBC article [1]:

“A chapter on Potential for Terrorist Use of Twitter notes that first reports of the Los Angeles earthquake in July appeared on the service before established news outlets.

And the relevance of this is?

“Terrorists could theoretically use Twitter social networking in the US as an operational tool.”

Indeed they could. Note use of word theoretically.

“Authorities in both the US and the UK are increasingly worried about the potential for terrorists to use the latest communication technologies including sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and gaming networks.”

And that neatly encapsulates what I’m on about.

There’s no doubt that there are some Very Bad People using the internet – people who it’s a good thing the authorities are monitoring. But – and at this stage it’s difficult to find a decent set of words without somebody going ‘paranoid much?’ – there’s an awful lot of rhetoric flying around about the need for regulation on the internet.

We’ve already had Culture Secretary Andy Burnham call for a debate on regulation, a similar call from Ofcom’s outgoing chief, and plans to tap into pretty much all of our data online.

Quite aside from the fact that trying to regulate the internet – and the noises are sufficiently vague enough to leave little clue as to what form this would take and how they’d go about it, although that’s never normally been a problem for politicians before – is nigh-on impossible, it’s also debatable how much of a public desire there is for it.

So, we’re seeing a set of arguments being deployed that politicians usually bring out in these kind of situations:

1. Terrorists could use it.

2. Won’t somebody think of the children.

And added to this is the slightly vague and new category:

3. People often say nasty things about other people online and we just don’t know who’s saying what.

There are valid point to be had one points one and two, but there’s nothing that our current laws can’t tackle providing the police are given adequate online resources and training.

With point two (ok, yes I know these are vague, somewhat facetious, and cover a multitude of sins), there’s also a discussion to be had about better educating children to be more aware about how they use personal details and conduct relationships online. But it’s debatable how much of a difference regulating, say, social networks would make.

Point three has been covered behind the link, although is largely drivel.

It wouldn’t be a urge surprise to see a trickle of stories highlighting statistics or reports that all back tighter regulation on the internet, and these will no doubt be supplemented by a couple of unfortunate real-life examples (which will make the news precisely because they’re so unusual, rather than be indicative of a larger concern) in order to build a case for greater internet regulation.

When that happens, expect the rest of us to take years to work out exactly what this means and what you’re likely to get prosecuted for or have shut down online (I imagine Devil’s Kitchen would be one of the first to go, given the high level of (funny) abuse directed at politicians.

Ok, perhaps there’s a level of paranoia on my part here, and I’m well aware that many of the arguments made here are somewhat vague and general, plus there’s probably a couple of straw men in the above words.

But this current government has time and again shown a complete willingness to try a regulate and monitor the public to within an inch of our lives while curtailing free speech and civil liberties. It’s not a massive surprise that they’ll move online (and don’t think the other lot will be any better).

Remember, this is a government that once declared that legislation against Brian Haw was like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but it was worth it because this was one rather large nut [2].

Granted, this government isn’t the US army, but the Twitter and terrorists story felt a lot like scaremongering except with tanks in the virtual world rather than outside Heathrow.

There is a serious, and rational, debate to be had about child protection and/or terrorism online, but simply saying Twitter could be used for terrorists is not it. And politicians tend, in recent years, to prefer to pass more regulation than bother to have a sensible and rational debate.

It’s not a great surprise when I say I’m a big fan of social media, and its potential to help advance communication and democracy and any number of other positive things on a worldwide scale.

Some of it isn’t mainstream, some of it’s confusing to people who don’t understand it, or have been on the receiving end of a flaming early on. But neither of those are reason enough to push restrictive legislation, in whatever form that may take and curtail freedom of speech, expression and sharing of ideas online.

One day, hopefully, we’ll get that debate offline. But in the meantime, expect plenty more dire warnings about child safety and terrorism online [3].

[1] Yes, I’m aware this is from Radio 1 Newsbeat. However, they’re usually pretty good at condensing issues and, because of their audience, often tend to be a bit more insightful than other outlets, partly as the story’s often broken down to its core issues.

[2] And whatever you think about Brian Haw, it’s difficult to deny he’s got a right to protest about whatever he likes in a free country.

[3] This really isn’t to play down both of these issues, but whatever’s decided shouldn’t come at the expense of treating every online user as a potential terrorist, child abuser and general ne’er to do well. Surprisingly enough, we don’t need governments to look after us on here – and given their general track record of keeping our data, you wouldn’t trust them ether. Given the option of being ruled by government or Google, I’d take Google every time.

Perspective

You’re the leader of a country going through an almost unprecedented economic crisis, so naturally the most pressing thing for the Prime Minister to do is let the world know that Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross are “inappropriate and unacceptable”.

Still, it’s nice to know that both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have got their fingers on the pulse of matters of national interest. You know the situation’s gone beyond parody when politicians starts getting involved. Sachsgate would have probably stilled rolled along at a jolly old speed without any ministerial intervention.

Or perhaps I’m the only one who’s just a little bit surprised that an ill-thought out and somewhat puerile, if slightly intermittently amusing, prank call to a pensioner on a radio show that the majority of people who’ve complained probably haven’t actually heard has managed to be front page news for three days.

Like I say, maybe it’s just me.

Does one prank call mean the BBC’s a hotbed of sick and offensive material? Doubtful. Was it funny? Not really. Does it call into question the very existence of the corporation? Probably not. Is there really nothing better to get worked up about? It appears not. We’ve only got a global recession, the US elections, rising fuel bills and other such minor piffles to worry about.

MORE:

(And, given how much I’ve professed to be bored to shit by this all, I feel somewhat ashamed for adding to this post.)

Lucy Mangan, who isn’t usually one of my favourite columnists, actually has a nice explanation of why the prank wasn’t funny. What’s that you say? Sensible analysis? Get outta town.

And Mof’s post at TV Scoop is both funny and sensible analysis? What’s that you say? Fun… oh you get the idea:

“I want to know why this has caused such outrage when everyone merely shrugged or ignored every other telephone prank that’s gone on in the history of TV and radio.

I don’t care how much they’re paid and I don’t care whether anyone likes them or not as those are nothing to do with the matter in hand. Personally, I can take or leave Wossy’s stuff and Russell Brand irritates the shit outta me… but to have them birched in public over some lame-ass prank?

This joke was never meant to be vintage comedy, more, a throwaway segment in a radio show. To judge their entire worth on one piece is like discrediting The Bible because of that part about eating cakes made out of dung.

Should we dig Beadle up and shout at his corpse for all those nasty jokes he played on unsuspecting tax payers?

Fact is, there’s a lot of reactionary bullshit being thrown around and I don’t like it…”

In other news today, at least 160 are dead in an earthquake in Pakistan, while around 50,000 Congolese have now been displaced by the deteriorating internal violence. And the economy’s still fucked.

But hey, that’s now important, just as long as the BBC apologises and sacks the nasty Mr. Ross and Mr. Brand. After that, world peace will break out and the nation’s moral compass will be restored.

Gary Elsewhere

At Soccerlens. Two trips to North London yield one Harry Redknapp, some fear, some loathing in Barnet and more than a smidgen of optimism from Tottenham fans.

Princes, paupers and probably not even peasants

Tomorrow night will be the third football match I’ll have attended in four days, and a third completely different type of football in the process.

On Saturday there was a trip up the Northern Line to watch Exeter beat Barnet 1-0 and go third in League 2 in the process.

Yesterday was a visit to White Hart Lane to watch ‘Arry Redknapp’s new charges take on a woeful Bolton team that could have been defeated by either of the two sides I saw the day before.

Tomorrow, Two Footed Tackle’s Chris and I will be heading south of the river to watch Tooting and Mitcham United take on Harrow Borough. For some reason, I can’t type the word Harrow without thinking of Kim Il-Jong from Team America: World Police.

I’d imagine tomorrow’s trip will be a complete contrast to both the lower reaches of the football league and the Premier League. From the thousands, to the few thousands to the just-over-a-hundreds, there’s always something heartening to see so many people turning out to watch any level of football, all with their own stories and history of the club. it’s kind of why I keep watching all levels of the game week in, week out.

As you can guess, the excessive football watching is part of the reason it’s a bit quiet on here. That, and other stuff. The upshot of it all is I’ve been so knackered that I fell asleep in front of my computer last night whilst in the middle of writing my Soccerlens piece. That one, I suspect, will need some serious subbing and alterations when I go back to it tonight.

The report of blogging’s death is an exaggeration

The weblog is dead, long live the blog. Or, if you’re Paul Boutin, who wrote an obituary for blogging at Wired magazine the other day, blogging is just dead and we should bury it now:

“Thinking about starting your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.”

Blimey, that’s a cheerful start to the day, and the prognosis just gets worse:

“Writing a weblog today isn’t the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.”

The article has caused quite a stir both on and offline and it looks as if BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones will be doing a piece on this on Radio 4’s Today programme tomorrow, asking if blogging is dead.

But the question itself seems somewhat tautologous. A blog post about blogging has got other blogs and non-blogs talking about the death of blogging. For a medium that, last time I checked, definitely wasn’t six feet under, it’s doing a remarkably good job of still getting itself noticed.

As the old saying goes, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and nobody’s stopped talking about it yet, so writing epitaphs seems a trifle premature.

The cynic in me suspects the post was written largely to get a reaction (and has succeeded), but rather than taking it to the extreme of death, it’s worth asking what’s different between blogging in 2008 than blogging, say, four years ago when citizen journalism was the new buzzword.

It’s certainly true that there are more professional blogs, corporate blogs and group blogs than there were back then. Indeed, it seems like you’re not a proper web 2.0-ed up company unless you’ve got yourself a company blog and are down with the proverbial kids.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Far from it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s a positively encouraging one, as it shows the evolution and maturing of blogging.

Brands, companies and traditional media are starting to move to the same level as bloggers – interacting, acknowledging and treating some of them as they would any other source. That news can be broken almost instantaneously via the web, and that spurious claims can be easily disproved, should continue to excite.

It also continues to highlight the power of the web or, more accurately, the power of Google. Get negative comments on your service and this will have a significant impact on your brand name’s Google juice – the last thing any company wants to see is the front page of results all criticising the product.

But get it right and a quick Google will produce pages of praise, which is as valuable to a brand’s reputation as any offline campaign. By placing blogging at the heart of this, it further increases the democratisation of the web. Again, this can only be a good thing.

I’ve said before that I see blogging as a medium that fits neatly into Habermas’ ideal of the public sphere. You have discussion about current events and those blogs that are the best informed, best written, or most entertaining will rise to the top. Those that sit ranting badly written rants will continue to attract just a small portion of readers. It is a free market in the currency of opinion.

A quick word about the negativity and vitriol Paul Boutin highlights in his article. This has been around since, really, day one of the internet and won’t change. Trolls won’t go away and there’ll always be that slightly odd group of people who take a perverse delight in sitting in the comments spewing hatred.

But we can live with that. What they most crave is attention, so by ignoring them they’re not getting the reaction they desire. And, if anything, the net seems to have increased in politeness.

Bloggers – and brands, companies and the like – are more willing to go into the comments and forums and politely put forward their point of view while there’s an informal online etiquette that is still evolving. People are getting more willing to engage, and the nuttier online element can be ignored.

Although the Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008 noted a fall in the number of blogs, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re seeing the death of blogging. There are, perhaps, a few explanations for this:

  1. Many of the original bloggers are getting older, so are moving to more high-powered positions of responsibility in the real world and have less time to blog, but this doesn’t mean they’re any less committed or enthusiastic to using blogs outside of a personal setting.
  2. A few of the really good bloggers – in whatever field – have been snapped up by bigger companies and have started blogging there instead, be it for traditional media sites, or overseeing company blogs.
  3. Many of the niche bloggers have pooled resources. Why have five blogs about a topic when you can come together in a group blog, where there’s less chance of lack of posting time and content, and a greater range of debates. Ultimately, every blogger wants to be read and joining forces to improve the Google juice increases the likelihood of this.

But Paul’s certainly got a point when he alludes to Twitter, Facebook and Flickr being the future. However, it’s worth pointing out that these aren’t blogging and blogging isn’t Twitter, Flickr or Facebook. Blogging is well-established enough not to be a passing fad.

Yes, all three offer a more concise immediacy that blogging, perhaps, can’t offer. But while Flickr could be described as photoblogging, it’s still different from blogging with words. They’re too very difficult entities. Nobody said the rise of photography led to the death of journalism.

Facebook is, again, different from blogging in so many ways. Sure, you can publish your blog to Facebook, but it seems to have settled into a niche as a networking, email exchange and event organiser. If people blog in there, they’re doing it for a specific audience.

And, more importantly, they’re still engaging in blogging, even if it’s in a more locked-out audience specific environment. But then, you could argue, this is just a more grown up version of Live Journal.

Finally, Twitter, which is the closest thing to blogging. It’s even described as microblogging, to which it is. But it’s still fundamentally different.

Twitter has probably been responsible for a decline in brief, one line blog posts. But take a look at the links being shared on Twitter, and then look at how many of them are, in fact, sharing ideas via blogs. Blogging and Twitter is symbiotic.

All of the above contributes to the conversation, and blogging is still very much a part of it. So the early adopters may not blog. So there are more personal blogs than ever before, and it may well be difficult to get your voice heard. That still doesn’t mean it’s a dying medium. Far from it.

This final snapshot may not be entirely reflective of the health of the blogosphere, but it, I think, provides a decent enough conclusion: in both a work and personal environment, I estimate I must get about half a dozen queries a week about blogging – how to set up a blog, what’s best blog practice, how to pitch to a blog, how to write a blog, and the rest.

That, to me, shows a medium that’s in rude health.


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