Monthly Archives: December 2004

Tsunami fund raisers should accept Paypal

I’ve been looking around for an agency accepting Paypal donations towards the various Tsunami appeals. I suspect there’s millions locked up in Paypal balances that could be made useful if some of the big agencies (Disasters Emergency Committee in the UK, for instance) would accept them. The SEA-EAT blog (already getting a lot of attention as a clearing house for tsunami resources) links to a couple of reputable-looking agencies accepting Paypal right now but they’re local operations that won’t attract much attention. What worries me is that, if the big fund raisers don’t add Paypal giving to their web sites now, it’s inevitable that various scumbags will fill the vacuum and start to rip off gullible donors. In the meantime, the best advice is obviously not to give any money to anyone unless you’re certain they’re genuine.

Update: of course, Paypal are ahead of me and have added this useful page to their site, including plenty of agencies now accepting Paypal. I do hope they’re waiving commission on these donations.

Overcoming donor fatigue

On the Today Programme the other day Bill Clinton suggested, even before the magnitude of the Asian disaster became clear, that the big donor Nations should divide up the affected region and concentrate on assisting specific countries. This sounds like a good idea to me but what if we took the idea further and explicitly twinned affected countries with countries in the donor community. Twins could be selected on the basis of wealth and need: The US and Indonesia, Britain and Sri Lanka…

Twinning could go deeper, too. Individual regions, towns and communities could opt to twin directly. Everybody understands twinning (most British towns are already twinned with one or more others) and it might help to overcome the ‘donor fatigue’ that will surely impede the epic reconstruction that will be needed over the long term. Communities permanently connected would develop bonds of understanding. Identification is much easier when you know those you are helping and when you can understand their lives and problems.

Twinning could be very easy to organise (it would need to be – nobody is going to have time to set up committees in the blitzed coastal communities themselves) and might simply be a matter of selecting an appropriate (similarly sized, for instance) town from a web site. Developing real bonds and providing useful help would be up to the participants themselves but some central services could be provided – communications, group buying, help & support, funds handling, for instance. This is clearly not an exercise for the short term while there is so much to do but by keeping donors engaged with the affected communities for longer, it could be a powerful aid to longer term reconstruction. What do you think?

Your tax dollar in action…

The Ofcom PSP seminar crowd, stage leftThe Ofcom PSP seminar crowd, stage right
I’ve been meaning to blog this for ages but I just haven’t been able to form the words in my head. Why? Anyway, I’ve been helping a sort of loose consortium, led by legendary geek hate figure David Docherty (don’t worry, he didn’t do it), who used to be fabulously important at the BBC and then at Telewest but whose timing could have been a bit better (like leaving the Beeb just as the crash started). David brought together top media folks from Accenture and BT and from old-fashioned TV production… and me… to brainstorm a response to Ofcom’s absolutely fascinating mock tender document for a new ?300M per year ‘Public Service Publisher’ (which came out of the regulator’s recent Review of Public Service Broadcasting). Lots of people have heaped praise on Ofcom for this very left-field response to the challenges of post-analogue switch-off public service media. I think it’s a very clever and very appropriate response too.

So the mock tender process saw us presenting with two other consortia to an overheated roomful of the biggest names in media (mostly TV). The idea is to gather ideas before a real tender process can start next year. I’m pleased to say that ours was the clear winner on the day (Adam Singer, chair of the X-Factor-style judging panel, actually came over and told us: “Game over. You won”). To be fair, the other two tenders were also fascinating: one was from a consortium of museums and the other a much more conventional TV-led group, including Fremantle Media and Vodafone (they probably won’t want to claim claim credit for the absolutely horrible word: ‘mobisode‘, used liberally in their presentation).

Our presentation went under the name ‘Six’, which is, I think, David’s in-joke about how this ‘channel’ will be positioned in relation to the other public service broadcasters. The exciting things about the proposal, from my point of view, are: that it makes no assumption about the primary channel (the net will be at least as important as TV, radio etc.), that it suggests an ‘open source’ approach to commissioned content (it’ll be a Creative Commons platform from day one) and that it’s utterly bottom-up (we envisage a very light-weight commissioning process that’s hyper-automated and that could actually be reduced to a set of APIs – how cool is that?).

Anyway, here’s the presentation, in horrible Powerpoint form (I’ll see if I can convert it to HTML later). We’d be fascinated to get your feedback on this.

Owen Gibson wrote the seminar up for The Guardian and I put some pics on flickr.com.

Fixing pensions

Pensions are important and will be for a long time (how about the indefinite future? Or at least until you can get uploading on the National Health). I find myself really losing patience with the politicians. No one doubts there’s a crisis coming and we’ve seen some interesting new ideas (like the citizen’s pension) but something as big as this should present an opportunity to try something new, something really radical and challenging to the legislative status quo.

We need a huge, broad-based, non-party effort and a commitment from our politicians to set aside ideology and the electoral cycle just for once if we’re ever to sort out provision for our old age. The legislators should convene a conference or a standing commission representing all the affected groups, give it a long-range remit (twenty years plus) and some insulation from the political ebb and flow (so it won’t be swept away in the next regime change) and grant it some legislative clout (access to ministerial resources, drafting rights, some kind of special parliamentary status).

I’d like to think something like this could happen in Blair’s Britain. It would be an interesting experiment and, if it worked, might provide a model for other very large-scale (even planetary) and very long-term (>100 years) issues like climate change, trade or migration.

Somehow I doubt it’ll happen, though. Pensions will remain subject to the collapsed five year time horizon of MPs and ministers and, as a result, we’ll see no solution until it’s much too late and the continuation of the ‘anything for a quiet life’ policy from all of the electable parties will produce a nasty social crisis when the storm hits. Very depressing.

Disney and Winnie-the-Pooh

The Disney Winnie-the-Pooh
Have you ever visited the Hundred Acre Wood? You can, you know. It’s a real place, hidden in the Home Counties and quite recognisably Pooh’s domain. All the landmarks are there, even the sandy place where Kanga and Roo lived. If you were brought up with Pooh it’s a quite amazing experience. It’s quaint, of course – very English – cream teas, a nice gift shop, the original Pooh Sticks bridge. It has absolutely nothing to do with Disney, though. It’s a non-Disney attraction. No one dressed as Tigger, no rides, no attractions, no hotel (no entry fee): just a fading trace of Winnie-the-Pooh’s origins, the place his creator lived and played, where Christopher Robin grew up.

I haven’t been there for years. I only mention it, really, because I just read that Pooh and his friends earned Disney $5.3 Billion in the last year. There’s something in that collision (unstoppable licensing powerhouse and quiet, half-buried English childhood treasure) that takes the breath away, something very descriptive of the whole business vs art, capital vs culture thing. Disney took a tiny, local, very modest cultural phenomenon and made from it the second richest fiction franchise in history. Is that a bad thing? No. Are the Pooh purists wrong when they say Disney ruined the characters? Yes. Disney’s forty year investment in Winnie-the-Pooh has taken him a long way from his quiet Surrey origins but without it generations of kids might never have heard of him.

A much bigger concern for me is Disney’s ruthless campaign to extend copyright protection for their properties into the distant future – a kind of sequestration that threatens to close off large parts of our literary and entertainment culture for good (I’ve written about this before). I guess $5B of annual income from one character is going to make you a little protective of your assets but it makes me sad to know that, in a period of unprecedented graphical and technical experimentation, we’ll probably never see another interpretation of Pooh. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to see a new Pooh from a studio you’ve never heard of or an illustrator with a new angle? (I guess I’m thinking of how much Helen Oxenbury’s gorgeous new interpretation of Alice adds to the Tenniel originals).

(Obviously, you’d have been upset if I hadn’t linked to this useful medical diagnosis).