Bentley on Blair

Last Friday was Tom Bentley’s last day in the office at Demos. After seven years as Director (and three as my boss), he’s off to Melbourne, Australia to take up a job as adviser to the Premier there.

By the looks of this article in the Sunday Times, I don’t think he’s afraid to burn a few bridges with the Blair camp. Have to say I pretty much agree with the analysis: a bit done, a lot of opportunities missed and not much scope for doing anything else until the next generation come along.

I’ll miss Tom a lot, he’s taught me a vast amount, but apparently they have email in Australia too 😉

Games and public policy

There’s a good piece on BBC News Online about serious games, including a bit about the apparently successful Cyber Budget in France:

“Fed up of people continually complaining about their taxes, France’s ministry of finance developed a video game, so now the people themselves can have a go at doing the minister’s job of balancing the country’s budget.”

A few years back I played a game the EU developed to illustrate how fishing stocks behave as a complex system. I know quite a lot about complexity — and I guess thought I knew the issues — but the game brought home to me in a dramatic way the disastrous effect that small changes in population of one species can have overall and how difficult it is to get fishermen to change their behaviour.

I don’t know of any UK Government departments working on games at the moment but I think they should. Maybe it’s something David Miliband could do as a way of developing the idea of personal carbon credits he proposed a couple of weeks ago. We could set up an online game where the emissions due to your behaviour can be measured and traded. Maybe we could develop a Kyoto Expansion Pack for the Sims Online or a carbon trading scheme for Second Life. We might even learn something about how people react to the system.

I’m also fascinated by ARGs like I Love Bees (created by 4orty2two entertainment) at the moment. I’d love to do one in London next year. It would have to be completely engrossing, great fun and teach players something about the city and themselves all at the same time.

Maybe it’s something we could do with Pick Me Up

The Indian blog ban episode of 2006

So it looks like the block on a number of major blog hosts in India was cock-up rather than conspiracy. The story going round is that ISPs misinterpreted requests to block a few individual blogs hosted on generic blogging domains and shut down access to the whole lot.

The coverage (particularly by Boing Boing) made me realise how fragile India’s international progressive brand is. The fact that some people easily believed that the Government would block blogs showed that people don’t see the country as a wholly unrepressive regime. India has sold itself in recent years as being different to China because it doesn’t have to go through the potentially destabilising transition to democracy that China will surely make in the next decade or so. There is, of course, unrest, as the recent bombings in Mumbai have shown, but the Government has always pulled out its democratic card when trying to attract investment or sell Indian services. I think this episode might have tarnished that argument a little.

How not to run an online community

For a while now, I’ve been watching the Guardian’s Comment Is Free site with increasing despondency. Almost from Day 1, it’s developed a toxic atmosphere simply because of the way that the technology is designed.

Last night I got an exasperated email from my friend Dougald (which had a subject line I won’t repeat before the watershed) about Georgina Henry’s announcement that you’ll only be allowed to comment on the site once every half an hour. You can have a look at the debate that follows the piece but there are two obvious things wrong with this:

First — it does nothing to get the users on-side and feeling good about the site, it just winds them up as it limits the most enthusiastic users and makes them feel frustrated.

Second — the people who already abuse the system will get round it. All you have to do is delete the cookie for the site after you’ve commented once and the site will let you comment again straight away (Remember: the net treats censorship as a fault and routes around).

It strikes me that the Comment Is Free team know they have a problem but are only willing to use sticking plasters as a solution. Instead they need to technologically start again. Comment Is Free needs threaded discussions and a reputation system for commenters. Add those two and it would soon sort itself out.

By the way, I reckon the best thing on there by a long way is Dan Chung’s photoblog because it appeals to a small group of people who respect his work (he is one of the world’s best photographers after all). Dan puts up more information about the shot than you get in the paper and answers technical questions. It’s a perfect example of using the web to do something that complements what the pros do in in the paper rather than setting up conflict between the pros and the ams.

China’s Green Revolution?

I’ve noticed quite a few stories about increasing interest in environmental performance by the Chinese Government recently. This one says the Government is to spend $175 billion (yep, that says billion) on an environmental cleanup. This one says that Bill Dunster (who designed my house) might get a big gig in China and New Scientist also ran a piece (sub reqd) about all the interest in Dongtan — a suburb of Shanghai which is going to be built to very high environmental standards.

With almost a quarter of the world’s population we all need to hope the Chinese do something revolutionary about the environment, especially greenhouse gases. But I also wonder whether it’s just the shot in the arm European and North American environmental technology firms need. Maybe this will give them the economies of scale and proof that green can be done big that they need.

Benkler’s Wealth of Networks

I’ve got a review of Yochai Benkler’s book The Wealth of Networks

in todays Financial Times Magazine. Since the FT website doesn’t let you comment, I’d be interested to know what other people who’ve read it think.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“There is, of course, something perverse about the fact that perhaps the best work yet about the fast-moving, enthusiast-driven internet has taken an academic 10 years to write and is printed on 528 pages of dead tree. But perhaps the interesting social production happens post-publication. The book is released under a Creative Commons licence so you can download it free from his website ( and Benkler has given readers all manner of collaborative tools to discuss the book and take the ideas forward. You’ll want a hard copy to thumb through, though. This is an important book.”

The full review is here.