Be careful when you Google yourself

Jon Ronson had a great little piece in the Guardian Weekend yesterday that illustrates in just a few hundred words what’s changed and stayed the same about journalism in the last couple of decades.


is one of my favourite non-fiction books — way ahead of its time in terms of the characters Jon chose to follow. He was writing about Omar Bakri Muhammad well before anybody else was looking at radicalisation of Islam in the UK. It’s also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

In the words of Vanilla Ice…

Stop, collaborate and listen.

Demos have a new collection out today called The Collaborative State. I’ve got two pieces in there: One on the online response to Hurricane Katrina (co-authored with Niamh) and another about how Government can use online collaborative tools more generally called Flesh, steel and Wikipedia (written with Molly).

Simon and Catherine had an op-ed article (sub req’d) in the FT yesterday which sets out the overall argument of the collection. The book also includes a piece by the brilliant Yochai Benkler, whose Wealth of Networks I reviewed last year.

Tories 2.0

I went along to hear George Osborne speak at the RSA yesterday morning about the internet and was very impressed. Normally, listening to politicians talking about technology is a bit embarrassing. They fall into lots of very obvious traps and sound very naive.

But the shadow chancellor has met the people, read the books and obviously spends a fair amount of time online (using Firefox which earned him extra brownie points). The speech should be a real wake up call to Labour and the other parties. It made me realise quite how far behind they are.

Read the full speech here.

It had to happen

Demos has a MySpace page.

It’s in advance of the launch of Their Space: Education for a Digital Generation by my friends Hannah Green and Celia Hannon. I helped out a bit with the research for the project and it’s been fascinating to work on. Hannah and Celia have done a brilliant job at bringing it all together and writing what I think is one of the best Demos reports for quite a while.

The piece basically takes apart the myth of ‘digital danger’ for teens. It suggests that schools in particular should have a lot more faith in kids ability to navigate the online world and should rearrange the way that IT is taught to put the kids in charge. The findings (which are all about kids in the UK) mesh neatly with things we’d learned about the US from danah boyd’s work.

There’s a podcast about the report here and it will be out as a pdf shortly. Well worth a read.


There’s no escaping the similarities between the lonelygirl15 saga and the plot of William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition. From the Washington Post:

“The plot [of Pattern Recognition] centers on mysterious bits of video posted anonymously on the Internet. The shadowy black-and-white videos, called “the footage,” appear to feature a pair of lovers and hint deliciously at a larger, magnetically compelling story. The footage inspires a cultish following on the Web, including chat rooms, parodies and investigations — just like those created around lonelygirl15 — and the novel’s hero is dispatched by an advertising wizard to track down the filmmakers so the phenomenon can be monetized.”

The Wikipedians have done an excellent job of telling the unfolding story of lonelygirl15. It seems to have come to an end for now with a series of public admissions that it was staged, although the scene is set for it to develop more into an ARG.

Gibson blogs chaotically and confusingly, but he’s noticed the Post’s piece likening lonelygirl15 to his book.

I had a few thoughts on Pattern Recognition the first time around, when I realised the ideas in the book wouldn’t go away.

I have to admit lonelygirl15 thing has creeped me out a bit. It made me realise how manipulative compelling storytelling can be in a networked environment. Perhaps it’s because as Gibson himself has said, “Emergent technology is, by its very nature, out of control, and leads to unpredictable outcomes.”

I think we’re just seeing the beginnings of a new form of art and/or business.

The Atlantic does Wikipedia

The Atlantic has the best article I’ve seen on the phenomenon that is Wikipedia. It’s a really detailed and interesting history of why and how it came about. I like this bit about why people contribute:

“Imagine that you happen upon your pet subject, or perhaps even look it up to see how it’s being treated. And what do you find? Well, this date is wrong, that characterization is poor, and a word is mispelled. You click the ‘edit’ tab and make the corrections, and you’ve just contributed to the progress of human knowledge. All in under five minutes, and at no cost.”

There’s also an interview with the author of the article on the Atlantic website which goes more into the different types of people who become wikipedians.

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.