Monthly Archives: June 2004

Social software in the real world?

I’m sort of interested in social software and I’ve signed up for every networking site since MIT’s Firefly and Sixdegrees but I’ve always thought that it’s all a bit academic until we start to see some second-order networking applications – sites whose primary function isn’t just… well… networking… but something else, something more specific – like losing weight, for instance, or unloading the contents of your attic on eBay.

David Galbraith alerts me to a really quite nifty new chat application that he’s been helping out with called Chatango and David MaCaney, CEO of Dublin-based Cafeslim, is connecting his customers – the slimmers – to help them get more from his weight loss programme. Chatango does IM-style presence detection without a download and that means your chat identity can be an ordinary http URL which – this is the neat bit – means you can paste it into your eBay or Craigslist listings and invite people to ‘click to chat’. I’ve signed up for Chatango (but not for Cafeslim – which is probably the wrong way round) so you can now chat with me (provided I’m online) by clicking here:

Going to the zoo…

A Komodo dragon
Yesterday I cold-called London Zoo about their online marketing. We love the zoo round here – we have an annual pass – best private club in town, if you ask me – and I think these guys could really make good use of some decent online marketing. I can’t think of a better way of promoting annual memberships and animal adoptions than with some clever digital work aimed at broadband families in the South East (and the super-glamorous Komodo dragons are arriving this summer so there’s your hook). Anyway, Natalie in the PR department told me there was no point calling because the Elephants handle marketing these days and they’ve been relocated to Whipsnade so they’re really really grumpy…

By the way, we’ll be hanging out with the creatures this Friday evening at London Zoo’s open evening, which looks like a lot of fun…

Middle management anarchists

My NotCon sticker, June 7 2004
Notcon was, of course, splendid. I didn’t see enough of it to provide much of an overview (so you might want to read these guys: Wired News, David Brake, himself, Will Davies) but I so enjoyed the two presentations in my own session (the.. erm… ‘business’ strand) that I wanted to link to them for you. Tom Dolan’s ‘Shit I’m a Manager‘ was a handy primer for new managers but it was engaging principally because Tom has obviously really enjoyed learning about managing people and projects. I think he’s probably an excellent and inspiring manager. Pete Windle‘s highly sarcastic ‘Mediocraties of Scale’ ran to about four minutes but his idea – we need to industrialise software production sharpish – was clever and almost certainly correct (Oops. Pete’s presentation doesn’t seem to be online).

Will the geeks break our democracy?

Geeks are purists. Or at least, most of them are. Pragmatism is tolerated but deprecated. (of course, some people think geeks are autistic but that’s another story). Purists (and autistics) find much of the business of being human far too messy and random. This manifests itself in a generalised impatience with the inefficiencies and inequities of human societies, systems and institutions. Democracy is one of the geeks’ big irritants. It’s obviously a mess. No one would design a system like this – all friction and compromise. Nothing elegant about it. The geeks, consequently, would like to reengineer democracy to better reflect their worldview. To flush out the inefficiencies and replace them with shiny, end-to-end, ‘open’ methods for translating public opinion directly into legislation and for monitoring the process (keeping the legislators honest).

The latest in a string of very worthy geek interventions is called They Work For You, from the people who brought you FaxYourMP, Public Whip and Downing Street Says. TWFY does a simple thing beautifully. It turns Hansard – parliament’s venerable contemporaneous record – into an accessible, searchable record of your representative’s appearances in the Commons. Of course, it does a lot more than that, including allowing you to correct your MP’s more egregious errors right there in the text, counting votes and marking interesting and important debates so they stand out from the rest.

So far so admirable. Surely no one would argue with making the work of legislators more accessible? I don’t know. I find myself wondering whether the democratic institutions we rely on are robust enough to withstand the fire hose of transparency and accountability the democracy hackers are getting ready to turn on it. What the hackers are planning here (and with earlier initiatives) is a ‘revolution from within’ that could, whether they like it or not, rip up the democratic cobblestones to reveal an unknown and unknowable hyperdemocratic future below. I’m pretty sure that I’m just being neurotic here – more democracy must always be a good thing, right? But what if the system currently has just enough accountability in it to keep it moving. What if more accountability actually slowed it down, gummed it up. Turned it into a machine for producing accountability and not laws? What if the apparently entirely benign hacker plot to tidy up democracy for the common good turned out to be less Socratic dream and more nasty sci-fi fantasy (cue replicants).

Right you lot

This is what my weblog ought to look like - click for a bigger picture
According to my web site stats, at least 60% of you are viewing this site in one or other version of IE on a PC (85% if you add all those ‘unknowns’). Take a look at the picture above (click for a bigger one). If Bowblog doesn’t look like the screenshot (i.e. three columns, nicely centred on the page), please let me know and (here’s your big test) if you know why it doesn’t look right, please tell me. I can’t figure it out but assume it’s something to do with my stylesheet… There will be a lavish reward.