Labour seem intent on losing internet support…

I try and stay away from commentin on politics, religion or football, but as someone’s whose first experience of voting brough the Labour party to power, I’m amazed they seem intent on ensuring I can never vote for them again.

There’s already a lot of coverage of the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham proposing cinema-style age ratings for websites, ISPs forced to only offer ‘child suitable’ services, reining in the internet and censoring websites in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

There’s been an enormous response, pointing out that the idea has more flaws than a block of flats, and culminating in Mike Butcher from Techcrunch UK setting up an Andy Burnham account on Twitter to follow

‘some of the Web’s leading commentators in the UK, so that when he does want it back, it will be pre-packaged with people who can direct mesage him a few salient thoughts about the Web, at least before he makes policy on the hoof.’

Sadly it’s been suspended, although now @andyburnhammp has appeared.

Pic by Tim Caynes on Flickr (CC Licence)

Pic by Tim Caynes on Flickr (CC Licence)

Just as the dust begins to settle, comes the revelation from The Guardian that:

The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone’s calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

Considering the former Director of Public Prosecutions has already described it in the article as a ‘hellhouse’ of personal private information, and the proposed tougher legal safeguards are meaningless in actual effectiveness, particularly in a crisis.

And sadly, I doubt he’s wrong.

As old chum @davidcushman said on Twitter:

‘don’t fear the database. Fear it’s centralised ownership and or use IMHO’

Which is exactly correct – whether it’s Google or Facebook, there’s a huge amount of data already tracked and available. And there’s nothing to stop a legal request for data.

But the idea of a private company having a centralised database and allowing access? Governed by a Government which can’t be trusted to look after the data it already has?

As Sir Ken MacDonald rightly says:

But the notion of total security is a paranoid fantasy which would destroy everything that makes living worthwhile. We must avoid surrendering our freedom as autonomous human beings to such an ugly future…

“It would be a complete readout of every citizen’s life in the most intimate and demeaning detail. No government of any colour is to be trusted with such a roadmap to our souls.”

No-one would deny that information needs to be made available in the event of a crime – but a centralized database would be the ultimate target for anyone to target in an attack.

And no doubt, the centralized database information would be taken as gospel in the event of a prosecution, rather than aggregating from various sources – so one error could be catastrophic for individuals or groups.

The one good outcome is it’s prompted me to review the political alternatives – both from existing parties, and possibly new ways to ensure this kind of stupidity can’t last.

With Barack proposing investment in broadband infrastructure as essential for the U.S economy, it seems weird to suddenly be envying my American friends for their political leader!

You can’t control communities – but you should inspire them

I went to an interesting discussion group today – unfortunately I arrived late, so I’m not sure how much I can disclose, and I also missed all the introductions.

But there were a range of people in positions of authority for digital products, services and communities from a range of institutions, both commercial and governmental.

And what I can talk about is the fact that we’re still debating whether brand owners should be prepared to relinquish control of what is created, published and discussed on their digital products.

Here’s something shocking:

You can’t, and you don’t control ‘your’ community. Never have. Never will.

The reason is that ‘your’ community isn’t just the people you moderate on your forum, or the people creating content that you can edit and publish. ‘Your’ community is spread far and wide, and comprises of everyone who has any type of interaction with your brand, product or service. At it’s most tenuous, it’s seeing someone in branded clothing, and your opinion of them informing your opinion about that brand – and discussing that offline, on forums, on Instant  Messaging services, and where-ever your conversations are.

Now try and convince me that you’re able to moderate and control everything someone does, everywhere they go? (Obviously I will accept arguments by Chinese Government officials…)

You should look to inspire communities:

This isn’t a new concept. The ideals of inspirational figures have been remembered and followed long after the names of those who tried to control/persecute/murder them. Pick whichever example is most relevant, from Jesus, through Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

If you want a certain type of content produced, or certain types of interaction, you need to plan to inspire your community to predominantly produce it. Whether it’s seeding a community with the right content, rewarding it (with fame or fortune), or simply being a part of the community in the manner which you would like to see, there are plenty of ways to do it – but don’t expect everyone to follow the example.

The only time I can ever advocate control and moderation is in the face of legal issues or persecution of individuals or groups. But this has to be accompanied by free and open explanation of the reasons for your actions. If not, the best case will be an annoyed user. At worst, you could see a forum revolt. Just look at the example of Sony HD DVD codes on Digg.com.

The best widget on the internet

If you’re wondering what the best widget you can use is, then I’ve found it. And surprisingly, despite the fact my taste in blogs and websites is fairly liberal, it’s not being used very much, meaning you can become a trendsetter by copying and pasting.

It’s not a zombie bite in Facebook, it won’t display your latest Twitter update, it doesn’t show yur Xbox 360 gamertag or make Myspace actually worth using…

It simply shows a fragment of a text for which someone in the world has been imprisoned or punished, to try and stop censorship on the internet.


It’s from Amnesty International and can be found at http://irrepressible.info/addcontent.

And I’m amazed at the amount of people who blathered on about the restrictions of the Bloggers Code of Conduct, or could threaten Kathy Sierra etc, but won’t do something as simple as publishing a widget on their blog…

If you are reading this and feel inspired to include the Amnesty International widget, or you’ve already plugged it in, do let me know. At the very least it’ll restore my faith in part of humanity…

The sense of censorship

I’ve just returned from some very interesting conversations, held on a beach on the Isle of Wight.
Despite the sandy taste of the lager, games journalists (among other things) David McCarthy and Kieron Gillen had a particularly interesting chat regarding censorship.
Originally focussing on the banning of the game Manhunt 2 by the BBFC, it also covered censorship of film, comics, and any entertainment media.

On one hand, I’m a big believer in the freedom of speech, and will happily sign up to defend anyone’s right to talk complete cobblers. At the same time, I’m regularly disapointed in the fact that a lot of people will believe the cobblers.

The optimist in me wants to point out that if there is film, text or a mixture which offends you, you can avoid enountering it. There are enough programmes to allow you to filter the internet, for example, with varying degrees of success.

At the same time, if someone does suggest something like a Blogging Code of Conduct, it’s entirely optional whether or not you sign up to it or not.

Sadly too many people seem to be unable to work out for themselves that they probably should watch disturbing films like A Clockwork Orange, or Assault on Precint 13, and avoid the latest horror franchise to follow this year’s trend for more and more gory fun.

This is one of the few posts I make, where I don’t already have a slightly patronising solution in mind… But I do think it’s an issue which will become ever more important. After all, if your new site is based on users supplying content, where do you draw the line on that content? Do you adopt the most lax legal approach of only ever reacting if there’s a complaint? Do you decide to let everything go, just to make a point, no matter how abhorrent? Or do you make a huge commitment to try and avoid anything offensive?

So far games seem to have got away with a relatively lax approach. Film seems to react only when there is something which can’t be defended as art. Meanwhile U.S comic firms voluntarily formed the Comics Code Authority in 1954. All three are capable of incredibly beauty and emotion. So which one was the right way to go?

Why not use the net to do some good…

I’m surprised I haven’t seen this mentioned on more blogs and tech sites. A new Amnesty International campaign ahs seen their website redone as http://irrepressible.info, targeting internet censorship, which has resulted in prison sentences, and corporal punishment for bloggers etc around the world.

The cleverest part is that you can install a widget in your blog by copying and pasting some code, which then displays snippets of content. The content is material that has led to someone being arrested and imprisoned under censorship laws, and the idea is that if enough people display the widget, the whole point of the censorship becomes meaningless.

I would have though I’d have seen this on countless blogs by now, seeing as it’s something so close to bloggers hearts, but maybe there’s a fear factor involved. If someone’s been arrested in Iraq or China, then maybe bloggers in other parts of the world think they could be next?

Or more plausibly, could it be because Amnesty mention Google (Owners of Blogspot), along with Yahoo etc in their articles?

Whatever, there are static buttons for email, and website use, that look a little like this:

At least if I display the widget I’m only likely to lose a blog, rather than my freedom. And it wouldn’t be the first time my widget has got me in trouble