Results tagged “politics”

Age of Twitter accounts in #gamergate

I thought that yesterday's brief post on #gamergate would be all I had to say on the subject - but two really interesting posts caught my attention, that I want to bring to yours.

First up, some serious data work. Andy Baio has done the hard work of scraping 3 days of #gamergate and #notyourshield tweets, and done some analysis on them. His central finding is this:

Two massive, impenetrable hairballs of people that want little to do with one another, only listening to their side and firing volleys across the chasm.

And that's visualised beautifully.

He also points out that the average age of the Twitter accounts used by #gamergate supporters skews very, very recent, as the graph at the top of this post clearly shows. Baio's careful to not suggest that it's the result of sock puppetry - but it's another data point to suggest that there's some of that at work.

My friend Kevin Anderson weighs in on the subject of sock puppets and false flag campaigns:

When you look at the techniques being used by some of these groups, such as creating sockpuppet social media accounts and using feminist critiques as a weapon against Brianna Wu (to demonstrate that her games were “anti-feminist”), you quickly get a sense of how the next partisan political scorched earth campaign will be fought. Sockpuppets will become the weaponised drones of popular opinion, amplifying marginal views so that they swamp mainstream opinion

And he raises a spectre of this becoming standard operating procedure for fringe groups wanting to persuade the media that they're more numerous than they really are:

Who needs robo-callers push-polling voters when you’ve got an army of AI-driven Twitter and Facebook accounts all spewing your line and endlessly quoted by cable TV show hosts who don’t care if the accounts are real, only if they reinforce their own talking points? They’ll be found out eventually, but it will be too late.

It's really beholden on us as journalists to develop a sophisticated enough understanding of social media and how it operates, and the data skills to analyse behaviours in the way that Baio did, to counteract this. If we take one thing away from #gamergate, it's that a minority can magnify their voices through smart use of technology. (It's arguable that ISIS is another example of this.)

Social media and data journalism aren't quirky digital add-ons - they're essential tools in our journalistic arsenal to understand, interrogate and report on the world around us. If we don't equip ourselves with these tools, we'll be used by those who have done so.

Adam miralejo mirror

Somewhere between 20 and 30 years ago, a skinny teenager who had finally outgrown his puppy fat sat watching TV in his front room in a small Scottish town. He was probably with his younger brother, and was almost certainly reading - until he heard the BBC children's presenters wish the children watching good luck with their exams.

"Thanks a bunch," he thought. "Our exams finished weeks ago". And then he threw his book at the TV. The BBC did not care about him, clearly.

And people wonder why the "Yes" vote in Scotland is so strong today.

That teenager was, of course, me. And that memory - amongst many others like it - is why I won't be surprised if Scotland votes "yes" today.

Childhood friends split

I've been watching the campaign with great interest, but writing very little (just the odd comment here and there). I've been reading as old school friends debate it on Facebook. One is very strongly "no", another very strongly "yes". Both are artists, and both have very valid perspectives on the situation. The general balance amongst my friends still up there seems around 50/50.

This is what happens when one part of the country forgets that the other has a different education system, legal system and (in many ways) culture. If Scotland leaves, the London-centric culture of organisations like the BBC and the civil service will have to shoulder an awful lot of the blame.

I grew up in Scotland. I moved up there a little before my fourth birthday, and have only glimpses of memories of my time living in Manchester before that. I would go on to live there until I left for university, and would visit regularly until my parents retired to Suffolk in my early 20s. In fact, I have spent just under half my life considering Scotland home. But I'm not Scottish.

But then, am I English? I may have been born English, but I didn't live there for any significant length of time until I was pretty much an adult. It's just not a label I can identify with. I've always called myself British. It captures both my upbringing and my adult life down south.

For a long time, I intended to write nothing about the referendum. I'm not resident in Scotland, I can't vote in the referendum and I can't honestly call myself Scottish. But today, walking back from a nursery drop-off and a coffee, I found a joke by Martin playing on my mind.

Identity crisis

If Scotland votes "yes" today, I won't know how to describe myself in a few years. I will, of course, still be technically both English and British. Britain is an island, not a nation. The United Kingdom will just no longer encompass the whole of Britain.

But an UK without the Scots feels somewhat empty to me. The country I will be a citizen of will no longer reflect part of what makes me who I am today. It will no longer contain a land and a people I love dearly. The UK has always felt like a family to me - a bickering family, true enough, and one with some serious problems , but a family none the less. And now someone is considering leaving the family. A family that loses a member is weaker for it.

If the Scots go, a small part of my identity will have been torn away.

Up until this morning, I didn't have a strong opinion about the way I wanted the vote to go - but I do now. I want a "No", but by a small, maybe tiny, margin. And, personally, I'd like to see fuller devolution. More powers to the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish parliaments, and an English parliament - outside London - to go with them. What we now think of as the Westminster parliament should be restricted to national issues only - ones that have an impact on all of the constituent parts of the UK.

There must be change

If the Scots vote to keep the UK together, then we should not return to business as normal. We should work to make it a genuinely United Kingdom, rather than a number of weaker kingdoms being pushed around by the big brother with delusions of grandeur. A "No" vote with no such change will only guarantee a "Yes" vote further down the line.

I don't want that. I want to be able to take my daughter to the land I grew up in, and have her know that it is part of her homeland, too.

Oh, crap, seriously?

Y'know, I don't often "do" politics on here, but some occasions just call for it:

The UK Independence party and France’s far-right Front National stormed to victory in European elections on Sunday night, as populist and nationalist parties across the continent dealt a heavy blow to the push for closer integration. Nigel Farage, Ukip leader, said the result – the first time a party other than Labour or the Conservatives had won a UK national election since 1910 – represented an “earthquake”. Marine Le Pen, the FN leader, said that there had been a “massive rejection of the EU”, while mainstream politicians struggled to come to terms with what had happened.

Things like this make me regret not "do"ing politics on here more often.

Many of you will have seen something like this when you visit my blog today:

EFF take-over on my blogAnd I'm far from alone. Here's Antony Mayfield's blog:

fight-back-3.pngAnd here's Christian Payne's:

fight-back.pngIt's not often that I use my blog for political purposes, but this is something I feel strongly about. I've heard from people on both sides of the issue, and while I can appreciate the effectiveness of mass surveillance in proventing terrorist attacks, I still can't find it in myself to condone mass surveillance of people who have no reasonable suspicion of involvement hanging over them. Just because the nature of the internet makes this easier does not mean this is an acceptable or reasonable way for democratic societies to behave.

So, I've signed the petition against it, and I urge you to consider doing the same - or writing to your congress respresentative if you're in the US

Sign the petition.

Just in case you missed it over the weekend, the UK Government are considering making it possible to seize reporters' notebooks and hard-drives, after secret hearings…

The Deregulation Bill is coming before the UK House of Commons on Monday, and among its many "red-tape-cutting" provisions is one that would allow the courts to grant the police secret hearings in which they could secure orders to seize reporters' notebooks, hard-drives and other confidential material. No one representing the reporters would be allowed to see the evidence in these "closed material procedures."

This is a profoundly worrying attack on journalists' ability to protect their sources - and the fact that secret hearings are involved is even more troubling. This will have a major impact on the ability of investigative journalists to do their work - and on the willingness of whistle-blowers to come forwards.

Is France ready for start-ups?

Arnaud Montebourg

I'm not liveblogging this session, because I'm not well-versed enough in French politics to be confident of doing it justice. There's a fascinating battle breaking out on stage, though.

Arnaud Montebourg, Minister of Redressement Productif in France, is on stage trying to defend France's reputation for being hostile to start-ups. He's taking a robust approach to it: he's accused Loïc of being unFrench for thinking that "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" should be updated. The example of Über keeps coming up - and the fact that France is moving to reduce its competitive example with the local taxi operators, by forcing Über cabs to wait a set amount of time. Plenty of people are arguing that defending existing businesses like this seems to be more important to the French than supporting new business.

He's arguing that you should target your innovation at creating new businesses and sectors and not disrupting existing businesses - and giving a clear warning that if you launch against existing businesses, they will be protected. It's a cultural thing, he suggests, in defending the right of people to make a living.

He describes it as a balanced approach. It's fairly clear that the room doesn't agree.

The VCs

And another issue has arisen: one questioner suggests that from tomorrow any French civil servant will be able to access his digital documents without reference to a judge. Montebourg fell back into French to deal with that. He seemed to be arguing that there were both protections in place, and new avenues for challenging the government on this.

But this clear picture to this Brit is that the tension between the French Government and the start-up community is high and not easing at all.

Fleur Pellerin

UPDATE: And now we get a completely different message from Fleur Pellerin, the Minister Delegate with responsibility for Small and Medium Enterprises, Innovation, and the Digital Economy.

She's trying to boost and support the venture capital industry in France - because she wants to make France the start-up centre of Europe.

You need to start in schools, she suggests, by helping children learn how to pitch and giving them the aspiration to try. France needs to work on the culture that you just become a salary man after business school - they need to stop the fear of failure stopping people becoming entrepreneurs. A very different set of messages from this morning's talk.

And she was surprisingly happy to let random audience members get on stage and ask her questions - and ask for money...

It might be a good time to start culling the politicians you follow on Twitter. Buzzfeed's Jim Waterson explains why Labour spammed its followers' Twitter feeds:

It's an attempt to recreate blanket broadcast-style coverage on Twitter. And if 4.5m people really did see this one tweet about energy bills then it would be an equivalent reach to the BBC's Six O'Clock News.

I suspect we're about to find out if people are prepared to accept politicians treating Twitter as a primarily broadcast medium. I have to say, if any group if people I followed did that, I'd unfollow the lot of them.

Nice piece of reporting by Buzzfeed.

Do all those fine folks on Twitter represent a good cross-section of the general public?

Overall, the reaction to political events on Twitter reflects a combination of the unique profile of active Twitter users and the extent to which events engage different communities and draw the comments of active users. While this provides an interesting look into how communities of interest respond to different circumstances, it does not reliably correlate with the overall reaction of adults nationwide.

tl;dr: Not so much:

At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative. Often it is the overall negativity that stands out. Much of the difference may have to do with both the narrow sliver of the public represented on Twitter as well as who among that slice chose to take part in any one conversation.

The Pew Research Centre report on Twitter reaction to events makes for fascinating reading.

Martin Belam pretended to be a ghost on twitter - and discovered the misogyny lurking in our political debate:

Then I announced that the next guest was going to be Emmeline Pankhurst, the first time it had featured a woman. Within a couple of minutes I got the first negative tweet I’d ever received directed at the account. And then a few minutes after that, without yet having tweeted in character, I got someone complaining that it was all going to be about feminism. And during the show people tweeted things like “Why are there no men on Woman’s hour?” at me.

It's a pretty disturbing read, rendered more so by the fact that these feelings are rendered in low level humour rather than outright abuse.

Libby Powell

Warning: liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling typos. Some of them will be mine, some of them auto-correct's. But don't say you weren't warned...

Libby Powell became a hack through entering a Guardian competition and writing an article about the overseas development work she was doing. She became a freelancer, but after a year began to feel like a bit of a fraud, writing about things she had no experience of. During a trip to Sierra Leone, she became aware of how much people's inability to tell the story of what they'd suffered was damaging to them. Everyone had phones, and was recording this stuff - but it wasn't getting published because it wasn't sexy enough for the mainstream media.

The media is powerful. You're telling people everything about people they've never met. Get it wrong, and you can do so much damage. People from the margins can improve quality and accountability more than those in the centre.

People kept telling her she was joining a sinking ship: journalism. She didn't feel that - to her it was a rising body, but one that was shedding some old skin. Media is still an elite, production of media is elite. 2/3s of the world's population is not yet online. As we switch to online, we shed those. That matters if you care about freedom, truth and exposure.

Rivers used to be the medium of communication and trade. Africa suffered because it lacked navigable rivers - and then road, and now connectivity. Those who are the last to connect, will be the last to tell their stories, or trade their goods. The most vulnerable are the ones least able to tell their stories.

Give people in the margins a digital voice

So, she formed radar. They'd use their currency as journalists to train the next generation to tell their own stories. They'd give people access to digital channels, via mobile to digital technology. They'd give people access to decision making, both editorial and political. Anyone who thinks that the whole world will be connected by 2020 is out of their mind. Social exclusion will control access to connectivity. Women will be prevented from accessing technology by social factors. People with disabilities are in the margins of society. So, they identify the people in the margins. They don't set up local offices, but find the people they trust - and approach them.

They started training using recycled NCTJ material. They started micro - with stories told by SMS. How can you teach people how to tell stories in 140 characters? It's easier to teach non-journalists that than people who have been trained to write lots of words. They teach the five "w"s. It centres people in a crisis. They are not technology-based, but human-based. They keep a human connection to people - and so they will never sclae to the Reuters level. They want to know the people they work with. The big platforms are getting so greedy for user content that they can't realisticly verify it anymore. Knowing the person make s ahuge difference to them.

She doesn't want this to be Doom Zone. Things are really ahrd for the reporters they work with. Some of that is unlearning steroetypes - you're not just interesting ebcause you've lost a limb. A disabled person doesn't have to report in disability all the time. It opens the floodgates once people understand that. They've had stories on Sollywood, Sierra Leone's emerging film industry.

They started on Tumblr, and used a SMS to Gmail tool to get it to work. But it's designed as a personal tool - so they ahd to work around the limitations. They run their digital hub from the UK. They don't write the stories - they amplify them. They tweet them, and send them to journalists. They get the repoerters interview slots. They do everything from their reporters they would do for themselves.

Tumblr is "great, love it". But they decided to invest in tech of their own - which was bold, because they weren't paying themselves yet. They built a microsite around the idea that mapping is really exciting right now. The maps show the stories as they come in, allowing people to explore the stories geographically. In August, they hope to have an "Explore" tab on their site. They can't talk much about it yet, but they're talking to gamers and thinking about how to sue multimedia to really engage with stories. Too often stories from the margins are treated as add-ons. They want to build one of the best storytelling platforms in the world to support this.

International Efforts

They want to move rights beyond the "right to be told" to the "right to tell". The idea of right to communicate is very stunted - we need to be very away of creating dialouge. They're doing Kenya, India and Siarra Leone - and new the UK. The majority of Bradford's population are middle-aged Muslim women, When do you see one of them as a reporter?

They've had coverage on the BBC and Al Jazeera. Their reporters "owned" Twitter during the Sierra Leone elections. Most of the groups they work with are off-grid and reply on SMS to communicate.

In Kenya, the women are almost invisble in the technology development and media. They targeted mothers and grandmothers, and mapped their work, reporting crimes and violence - but also "cool spots" where everything was OK. Stories are built SMS by SMS - often the base team text question back for more details.

In India, much of their work focuses on the untouchables. There have been seven acid attacks on girls in one district - and they triage by caste in the hospitals. One woman and her father wasn't allowed into the police station because of their caste. They're working with digital storytellers on ways of telling these stories more vividly. Stories need graphics and they need to move, if they're to move you...

Google and The Guardian invited them to an event - Big Tent Activate - and they brought some of their reporter with them - and evey one of them was rejected by the hotel security staff. But they got them in, and they got to pitch their stories to the Guardian.

Her experiences as an aid worker and a journalist have horrified her, ebcasue of the ease in which she can come and go from these troubled parts of the world. Can she make herself a mule to bring people's voices in and out? They need other people who feel this. They need editors, listeners, hackers... If you have a couple of hours to give, then let her know.

The SMS Gateway

They're using standard SMS gateways, based on http. They're putting teh data into a graph database to track relationships inherent in the stories. Each bit of data goes in, and the relationships get modelled. Intially they produce flat form stories, but as they develop the website, they'll start to expose how the story came about and developed, from the point the first text came in.

The UK pilot will include multimedia attachments, as even the cheapest UK phone can take photos.


How do you give back to your reporters?

We let them know we got it. A Tweet of a submission is one credit, used in a blog post is two and external publication is five. Credits can be used for more training. If they ask for stories, they give them $10 - more than the average weekly wage. Texts are always local - and they're looking at a free system, but there is a value in the cost as an editorial check. 5 to 6% of the stories have been published - and they get all of that money. One person in Sierra Leone has earned £250 for his stories - and has bought a new laptop and training with some of it. It's hard to walk the line between news agancy and campaigning group. They're linking with They lobby via Twitter, by directing articles at people.

How are you funded? How are you going to stay funded?

Having worked in development, she realises that the tools they have developed are valuable. Most of the third sector are woring off-grid, and they're finding it hard to communicate, which means projects are fading. A visit every two years isn't going to get real answers, because people are afraid you'll take it away. So - they're planning on pimping their tools. The training is lucrative, but adding the hubs and technology makes it far more so. They're going to split radar into a charitable entity and a shark-like consultancy firm, that will bring in money to fund the groups who can't pay.

How much knowledge transfer is going on from those you've trained? Can you create native language reporter networks?

The first few countries they worked with were primarily English speaking - but in India they weren't - and many were deaf. So she was working both through a translator and a signer. Theire tool needs to be developed to work with non-Roman alphanumeric language systems.

How are you approaching getting editorial impact?

She loves that she was just linked with Wikileaks. Ideally they wouldn't have gatekeepers - but they've always been a collaborative news agency. The editing gives people confidence to submit. They went without a website for a while - why move something from a closed community - a slum - to another - their website - when they can partner with people with traffic? They "shamed" The Guardian and the BBC into taking their coverage. They use Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter because they have traffic. And sometimes their reports are the only ones that come out of a country that month.

Margaret Thatcher has rather annoyed me this evening, and that's not something I've been able to say for decades. 

I hate feeling obligated to write about something on my blog, you see, and by having the sheer, stark lack of consideration to die, she's created a prevailing mood that leaves me to feel I need to put finger to keyboard before I hit the sack, far later than I should have done. Like most British children of the early 70s, my formative years politically were dominated by her. The 1980s were her decade of British politics  When she finally left office in the 90s, it was the first time I could remember living in a Britain that wasn't ruled by her. I held on to the Evening Standard front cover from the day she resigned for the next decade or so. 

She was a divisive, polarising, but hugely successful and productive figure, who can inspire pieces like this positive spin from Andrew Sullivan and this more negative take from The Guardian, both of which are probably true. But it has split social media into nasty little tribal factions that have been warring away all day, reminding me why I much prefer the the long-form response represented by the two posts I just linked. 

In fact, the factions broke down in a way perfectly predicted by Martin Belam back at the tail end of last year:

It's un-edifying, and something I pretty much avoided other than to throw the occasional piece of satire in from the sidelines:

In the end, though, I pretty much agree with this piece from Glen Greenwald which argued that people should be free to say what they like about a public figure when they die. She was a huge part of the UK's public life and some debate on what her legacy is is not just to be expected, it's actually healthy.

But there is one response that I do think is unhealthy: "I hated her and I'm glad she's dead". That's not because it makes any difference to her - she's beyond that now, one way or another - or her family, who will never see the majority of it. It simply diminishes the people who feel that way. To devote so much energy to hating someone who left power nearly a quarter of a century ago to the point where you want to celebrate the death of an elderly, sick grandmother and widow just seems to me to lack a sense of proportion and of human empathy. 

The reason so many different media warn us against hate - from George Orwell to Doctor Who to umpteen world religions - is that it damages the person feeling the emotion more than the person to whom it is directed most of the time.

This may be, in fact, meta-piety, but it's my blog and I'll be pious if I want to. 

Tuesday night's fine for electin'

Four years ago, on US election night, I was at The Frontline Club, enjoying their election party. Tonight? Keeping up via the interwebs from my mother-in-law's front room. Oh, and it's my birthday, too. I know how to live.

I'm pulling in information from a variety of sources, but one which is consistently throwing up quirky stories - like the sudden outbreak of Brits Googling "electoral college" -  is Maarten's Trendolizer:

The TrendolizerNot quite sure how he's doing it, as it involves Perl jiggery-pokery, but it's surfacing interesting, timely stuff, and what more can you ask for? 

In my case, "a raid on my mother-in-law's whisky supply" might be the answer...

Vinay Gupta

Catching up on my liveblogged notes from last week's Meaning Conference - I ran out of laptop battery, so couldn't post them at the time. 

The second act of the afternoon session is kicked off by a man who doesn't get out of bed for less than 1% mortality...

The rise in computing power between 1990 and 2020 will be insignificant compared to the rise in the thirty years thereafter. Solar panels will be cheaper than coal by 2020. If you're under 30, you've never really seen change, because it take those 30 or 40 years to really become visible.

What does that have to do with Hexayurts?  They're built from standard industrial manufacturing sizes of materials - sheets and half sheets. If the hippies had had these things they would have won. Burning Man is covered with them. In year 10, it's starting to acquire exponential momentum.

Our houses are three things: accommodation, storage of wealth and investment. Right now - accommodation is well met, storage of wealth and investment are ruined, because prices are going down. If we build millions of new homes, you can drive prices down so far that everything changes. Mortgages go away. Ireland has 200,000 empty units. The over-build is gigantic and we won't let the housing prices drop, because no-one wants to admit that the houses aren't worth what they once were. The market is totally illiquid. Abundance breaks the financial system.

Economists get a bad rep, but there are some good new ones. The new economists:

  • Coase - companies are efficient pockets of command-and-control within market chaos. But that only holds for some costs of decision making.
  • Nash - it's possible that everyone can get stuck in a situation which will destroy all of them, because the costs to the individual of changing the situation are too high - you need co-ordinated action from all - the goat rodeo.
  • Benkler - new kinds of value creation exist in an abundant information, cheap communioncatin world. It appears commons based per production works bett than capitalism.

Valve is apparently the most profitable company per employee in the world. They mythology is that you pick and choose your projects in the company. It has no internal coercive structure. If you drive out fear, you get good quality communication. Hierarchy create fear which reduces productivity. The boss of Valve can't get his own games made - but the people who work for him make him $300,000 a year. The pyramid doesn't work in this environment. It's an internal anarchy.

Hexayurt is not a business. There's no bank account. There's just a domain name. Yet, it's the most efficient shelter in the world, and its growing exponentially.

Windows is a corporate ecosystem, and is full of evil midgets - the crapware. Apple is a benign dictatorship - unles you're the app developer who gets kicked out of the store. Linux is structured like the Goth tribes that sacked Rome. The secret to Open Source success is looking like you can finish it on your own. They've sacked the server market and haven't quite done the same with desktop. Apple has put a thin level of dictatorship on top of Open Source BSD and sacked Microsoft, but you can't contain the anarchy.

The three futures:

  • Cheap energy, cheap information
  • Resource scarcity and war - the classic bleak future
  • Decentralise (Naxalites) - a machete version of capitalism

Fear of the nuclear bomb stopped us thinking rationally. It might all work as long as we can get the nanotechnology or biotech risk under control. Stop anyone making an open source 3D printer for genes...

We could end up in a world where the largest functional organisation is 24 people for 4.5 months. Could happen. To survive, we need one planet consumption and no apocalypse technology.

They did a book: The Future We Deserve. Sourced on Twitter, two weeks to edit. Go.

Robert Andrews highlights the political dangers to the traditional Reed Elsevier business model, by quoting a research note from Berstein Research's Claudio Aspesi:

We think the risk posed to the Elsevier business model is substantial. We believe investors are underestimating the disruption that both the EC and even the UK policies could pose to the business model of Elsevier...

Being a paid publishing gatekeeper is a very difficult situation to maintain in any field right now. People with the money and time to access printing presses no longer have an advantage. Business models based on that advantage - and make no mistake, that's what journal publishing is - are in trouble. To have a business model which charges people to both be published and to read the publication is to doom yourself. It's been a great money-maker for decades, but the game is pretty much up.

But it's not just that structural change at play here - there's a political will to break the power of the journal publishers. Andrews:

In July, three UK education research councils and the European Commission announced stipulations that future research partly funded by taxpayers - much of which is currently published through subscription journals - must be made more open-access. The UK government has labelled research "paywalls" "deeply unhealthy", and wants to free up availability.

And they're just joining pressure that already exists from the contributors and readers. Andrews again:

Many researchers were already revolting against health and science journal publisher Reed Elsevier for selling bundles of journals containing their work, rather than individual journals, to libraries. Tens of thousands of people signed a petition.

Pressure for government - which funds much of the work published in journals. Pressure from the users and contributors. 

Winter is coming...

Enhanced by Zemanta

Bobbie Johnson - making Matter matter

Bobbie Johnson

About a year ago - he got pissed off. He came from The Guardian which has a "troubled" relationship with profit. Why does the meaty, good in-depth investigative stuff he likes not really exist online? Why does it need paper subsidy to make it work. And he wasn't the only one who was feeling that way. These stories are hard - they need time and legal backup to do well. He talked to his friend Jim who lives in San Francisco - he's a science writer who writes for New Scientist et al. They want to find a way to do long-form investigative journalism that's build for the web. Blogs are brilliant. He owes his career to them. And it's become the native format for news on the web. But long stories look and feel the same on the web - and that bores you. 

They saw the prices for journalism dropping - but they saw the rise of Kindles and the iPad as new avenues for people to read. The browser is better than its ever been before - particularly with HTML. And pretty much all devices that people use for reading use webkit as the underlying browser technology. So, the obvious answer seemed to be to sell people the long-form content via these new channels, as people has shown a wiliness to pay.

Matter will be a lean, distributed journalism organisation that only produces long, deep pieces of journalism - ideally once a week. The age of journalism businesses doing all forms of journalism are done. They ran the business ideas past some people "who knew what they were doing". They recommended testing and experimentation. They got some feedback on potential Kindle sales. So how do they get started? They needed money. Bobbie's Guardian redundancy money was long spent. They both have babies on the way. The roadblock to getting investors on-board was the need for proof of the concept. And so they decided to try out Kickstarter, the US crowd-sourcing services. They aimed for $50k to commission three big pieces. The most ever raised  on Kickstarter for journalism was $55k. They wanted to be "number two by a little". They called in favours from friends to get their video done, e-mailed everyone they knew. They hit the thousands of dollars out of the gate. Overnight they hit $25,000, and hit their goal in 38 hours. Kickstarter gives you a month to hit the funding target... By the end of the month they had $140,000 - making it the most successful publishing project on Kickstarter. 

It's changed his idea of crowd funding - it suddenly became a much more powerful idea. They have no other shareholders, thanks to crowd funding - but the have 2,500 with an emotional attachment to it.

They're no longer building a bare-bones service, but they're building something that will look beautiful over all devices. They're working with Clearleft to build it, and they hope to launch in September. The first three are neuroscience, cyber-crime and environmental stories.  

They've got a great group of journalists - people from the New Yorker, Wired and Harpers as freelance editors. Each story is being treated as a publication, with their own team. It's like a small book. They'll commission art for it. It's not a magazine. It's not a website. It's Matter. 

People thought he was going to run off to Brazil with the money - but their aim is to build a dedicated journalism start-up that can keep its head above water. It might become an umbrella for events and the like. There's another form of crow-funding called payment... They've crowd funded their way to the starting line. 

Q. Since they have a business plan, are they worried that they won't be taken seriously by the tech world.

A. VCs want them to have a "big plan". Getting people to pay for journalism is a big plan!

Q. Has there been much success with Kindle Singles?

A. There are a lot of requirements for Kindle Singles - at leads 5000 words, pre-sight by the Amazon team. There are about 200 titles. The average sell is 15,000 copies. Matter is targeting $0.99 price - once everyone has taken their cut you might get $10,000 back. Finding those numbers was the "lightbulb" moment. 

Marketing is their big challenge. They'll sell through iBooks and Amazon, but they're hoping people will want to write about their stories, and that their 2,500 supporters will help promote them.

Duncan Campbell - the culture of surveillance 

Duncan Campbell

His story started in Brighton 40 years ago. This is a tale about the secret world of surveillance, a biographical tale about journalism, and a call to action about what the government are about to launch against us. There's a small rocky island in the North Atlantic where once all information was owned by the government and publishing it could land you in jail for six months. The 1911 Official Secrets Act was antithetical to journalism and asking questions. Indeed, you could be jailed for asking questions. He was prosecuted in 1977 for a crime which could have landed him in jails for 30 years. That law was eventually repealed in 1989. But now we face a similar situation...

Data journalism is a new opportunity for journalism. He's involved in what he thinks is the biggest data journalism exercise ver. The bill launched by Theresa May a few weeks ago - the Draft Communications Data Bill -  is a monstrosity that allows everything on the internet to be data mined by the government. They want access to every layer of the internet - and they're selling on the basis that the next terrorism atrocity could be planned by two avatars talking in World of Warcraft. Since 9/11 a vast industry has grown up selling interception kit to every form of government that allows them to monitor the internet. It's known as "Signals Intelligence". 

40 years ago GCHQ in Cheltenham was an absolute secret. When he proposed a feature to Time Out, he phoned up GCHQ, and amazed the receptions hit by the sheer fact of knowing it. 

David Orman 2010 book. Protint - protected information intelligence - all our private information will be available to the Government, under special conditions. Travel bookings, passport and biomentric intelligence and so on... The former director or public prosecutions has said that this is information no government should be trusted with. The 1976 GCHQ article caused shock across Whitehall, because what they thought was a well-protected was splashed across a listings mag in London. His telephone was tapped shortly afterwards. He was followed by MI5 - whom he never noticed - and the special branch - whom he lead a merry dance across Brighton. Whitehall saw his article in the alight of Watergate - as a threat that needed to be contained. He was arrested for doing an interview with a former solider. The transcript was marked secret. Then "top" was added. And then it was stamped "Top Secret" again. The trial failed, and the law had to be changed. It had exposed the fact that much of what GCHQ was doing was illegal. The tapping work had started 40 years ago, and continues with the new act. 

He continued researching this, and then the BBC and Panorama followed suit. Disclosures under the 30 years rules give an insight into how the Government reacted. The government worried about the BBC making Campbell's activities respectable. The documents show an extraordinarily paranoid view amongst the most powerful people in Britain. He wasn't trying to bring down Britain - they knew that - but he was branded as an unaffiliated revolutionary. Robin Cook was one of them branded in this way - and he ended up running the security services! The net result was the government was forced to bring the intelligence services into the rule of law - and the country afield to collapse. Campbell went to work for the BBC, and started a series called Secret Society - and did a story about the first government spy satellite: Zircon. The show was promptly banned, but the story got out through a magazine. The magazine, Campbell's house, and the BBC's office in Scotland were raided. The director general of the BBC was sacked. By 1988 Campbell was exposing Echelon in the New Statesman - it was already 20 years old by then. 

Capenhurst "ETF" - microwave communication around Britain. The Dublin to Manchester link was the backbone of Ireland's communication internationally. At the cost of £20m the government built an interception tower near Birkenhead - even those they weren't legally allowed to intercept. It was decommissioned in 2002. He proposed to Channel 4 that they make an offer to buy it. They were allowed in. The equipment was gone, but they knew the pattern of holes in the floor that would be needed if they were intercepting the signals - and they were there sure enough. Once again, this lead to putative changes in legislation. It was taken to European Court of Human Rights by Liberty - and they won. But the Government never made the relevant changes in the law. 

He wrote a report for the European Union in 2000 in Interception Capabilities - a set of laws were passed by the EU parliament in September 2001 - but were buried by the appalling events of 9/11 just a few days later. Then came a series of attempts to provide means to monitor the internet. They focus now on deep-packet inspection. Vast amounts of data can be extracted from communication systems and fed into analysis software. People's movements can be tracked via their mobile phones. Automated number-plate readers are spreading - and they are much more serious than CCTV - which needs to be analysed by human beings. The number-plate readers are automatically banking records of all journeys passing these checkpoints for up to 10 years. 

The later, greatest and most serious move is direct access to the internet. Very sophisticated semantic traffic analysers are being placed in major internet switching points. Narus. Both Bush and Obama have legislated to stop court cases against this for breach of privacy. All of the tapping was done in the early part of 2003 - but the plans go back to 1998. It was not triggered by 9/11. As far as can be told, the same is true in Britain. As far as threats to national security go - they already have the access. So why do they need the new legislation? 

Just like drone operators, surveillance operators have suburban commuter jobs in comfortable offices in country locations.

The establishment have more paranoia than even radicals of the left. They want all data to be theirs, and are legislating to make this happen. The value of human rights and of privacy is fundamental to our integrity and is worth fighting for.

Q. Bruce Scheinder is big on the fact that kids don't care about privacy any more.

A. It's a fair summary - but that's how they're inculcated to think by Google, Facebook et al. If the product costs nothing - you are the product. The country that understands this best is Germany, possibly through their process of de-Mazification.

Q. The constant cat and mouse that goes on -- presumably the new bill is about making things legal that they're already doing. Is there ever and end to it? 

A. There is s central journalistic problem in telling this story - the can be dry as dust. What you need is a victim who has been hurt by surveillance. It's hard to do theism - it's very limited. And there's a chilling effect - people don't feel free to be who they are because of surveillance. Things they're trying to do now - like accessing Skype - are harder to do now. The case is being absurdly over-stated. It's about hanging on to power, not about understanding what they need to keep us safe. The mobile phone hacking we're talking about at Leveson is all PIN-based voicemail hacking. They couldn't get phone records. However, we are at risk of a financial collapse, a 1930s style environment where people will want access to data.

It doesn't look like they have lines in ISPs yet - that's what the black boxes in the new legislation are about. They want direct access to new forms of communication that aren't e-mail, like Facebook messages. They want an ultimate trojan so they can identify who anonymous people actually are. 

Q. The phone "hacking" stuff isn't really hacking. It's a party trick. Who here has signed the Official Secrets Act?

About four or five have: people who have served in the forces, who have worked for BT. 

A. Signing it amounts to nothing apart from the fact you've read the act. If the duty of confidence to the government - if that has been improperly claimed, I hope journalists will breach it.

Q. Is Theresa May just a mouthpiece for what the security services want?

A. Minsters always are. The justification that the new bill meets the European human rights regulations is so badly written he suspects that all the hard-core civil servants have been sacked. I hope that this amateurism might allow a collation of interested parties to defeat the bill.

Q. Is this anything to do with Wikileaks?

A. I don't think so. Wikileaks is a happy harbinger of the sort of journalism we're starting to be able to do. But this is the historical tentacle of the British state - the same people who built communications tapping operations in Cornwall to monitor its own citizens. 

Campbell was never locked away for 30 years - he believes that the state is still stronger than the secret state. But 9/11 is being used to beat us over the head. They tried to tap the internet then - but didn't manage, possibly because they had no budget. This is the latest attempt - and it reflects things they've been asking for for 10 to 12 years. The FBI are talking about the "world going dark" in terms of information - but things have always been dark. People have planned things in meetings like this - people talking in rooms above pubs. 

He's looked a lot at terrorist's computers and communications. Do they use cryptology as people claim? None of the planners of 9/11 used any encrypted communications. That's true in the majority of the cases of terrorist plots in the UK - but not all. They us etchings like e-mail dead drops - free e-mail accounts with shared passwords, where they never send the e-mails, just leave messages in the account. That was established art early as 2000 by Al Queda. Now they use the cloud. 

Enhanced by Zemanta


GB: Efficiency is a great driver for innovation. Energy efficiency is going to be a benchmark of a prosperous economy.

Caroline Lucas

CL: I agree with much of that. We want to see growth in the renewables sectors - and technology is important in making things in a more efficient way. But if everything is growing, well, we're on a planet of finite resources, so we can't go on growing all times in all sectors. We need to reduce our consumption to allow developing companies to develop. We need less stuff, but more efficiently produced. Just having more and more stuff, even if it's efficient, is no good. 

NB: There's good growth and bad growth.  We need to make technology available to make sure that as countries develop, they do so with clean tech and green fuel. 

GB: You need an ambitious vision. But the reality is that it's not at the top of most people's priority list. We need to take a vision to the wide population. We'll be doing this with the Green Deal this autumn. It's a transformational way of approaching energy efficiency. Up until now we've relieved on Government initiatives delivered through the energy companies, but there's been little public appetite. We're creating  new marketplace that will bring in ll sorts of new players. It's not just selling energy efficiency, but home improvement. We need to make these innovations more consumer-friendly. Going green needs to be an attractive as well as sensible thing to do.  

CL: A modified Green Deal would be part of a greener vision. But we have a treasury giving out messages that anything green is a burden on business - and actively lobbying in Europe on that. Greg is right to make this something aspirational. For too long, we have given the impression that being green is about shivering around a candle in a cave. We've given that impression for too long. How do we use the best brains in advertising the he alt benefits of a really great bike? 

Norman Baker

NB: Austerity? No. We've got the biggest rail building programme in decades right now. We have to recognise the times we're in. £560m is there for local sustainable transport schemes.

CL: If the Government was really serious about getting us out of this, they'd be investing (and borrowing to invest) in this, as you'd get the return in jobs. 

Some skirmishing between CL and NB on issues like a third runway at Heathrow, which she claims is back on the agenda, and which he denies. 

GH: There are different ways of pursuing a green agenda. We're trying to take green measure off consumer bills, and onto general taxation. Good housekeeping and good accounting is compatible with the green economy. If you let people make profits all over the place at the expense of consumers, you will give green a bad name.

CL: But you have contradictor policies. The wholesale price of gas is the biggest driver of fuel bill rises, and what you've down is create a new rush for gas. 

CL and GH debate the need for a binding energy efficiency target, with Lucas arguing for one, and Barker suggesting that previous targets have been unrealistic and worthless. He wants a "realistic, worthwhile" target. 

GB: Expecting Sharp to move its solar HQ to the UK in the next week or so. The government ways the UK to become a great place to make renewable systems, not just install them. They want to great new payment methods and investment systems to get encourage development.

CL: We fell from third to 13th in green inward investment last year. We need policy security, and we don't have it. The government keeps changing it. 


NB: Loss of fuel duty from getting people to go into cities on bicycles or foot are offset by the commercial gains from making our town centres more vibrant and friendly without so many cars. 

Greg Barker

GB: The real engines for growth are the SMEs - we have a third of Europe's SMEs in the UK. There will be no Green Deal fees for SMEs for the first two years. Encouraging SMEs to come together to offer alternatives to the big energy companies is valuable. Caroline has been doing good work in Brighton on Hove that. People trust companies in their local communities to come into their homes. 

CL: We need to go further. We need to make it easier for local companies to take part in procurement processes, and to specify local companies. There are exciting opportunities out there. Brighton & Hove are arguing for faster broadband. Becoming a second tier status city would help that. 

GB: Will be working to try and get more uniformity of interpretation of planning guidance amongst local authorities. Pioneer cities - to lead the way on carbon management. 

NB: Everything we do need to create growth and cut carbon. The localism agenda isn't being talked about enough. It's a huge change - including planning, so you should be able to have more influence what happens in your local area. Localism vision is a way to get buy-in from local people. 

CL: We need to get away from "growth" - to prosperity, value, well-being. We need more creativity in planning. You can bring together tackling the deficit and the green agenda. Invest more in the green economy and it'll help lift us out of recession. 

Enhanced by Zemanta