A distributed business

Three flights of stairs to Sense WorldwideThe Sense Worldwide officeInma Martinez
Up many flights of stairs to the not-very-glamorous offices of brainy trend-spotters Sense Worldwide. Jeremy Brown, Tom Savigar, Raj Panjwani and Inma Martinez run an unusual business, employing only 8 staff but with on-demand access to about 1,000 other people from a global email network of egg heads, designers, fashion victims, people watchers and journos (Sensers, they’re called). Very contemporary, very distributed, very cool. Sense recently spawned a clutch of pretty good new weblogs too.

Essential broadband reading

The clever people at The Work Foundation have done some ethnographic research (the first in Britain, they think) into the use of broadband. Their conclusions are fascinating. In summary, pretty much everything that the access industry has been saying in its broadband marketing is wrong. I urge you to read the PDF file referenced here. I particularly like the subtlety of the distinction they draw between ‘always on’ and ‘always there’. I made the case for ‘always on’ in The Guardian a couple of months ago but ‘always there’ is more descriptive of real user behaviour – computers are turned off, people go out and live their lives – but broadband connections are ‘always there’.

Migration Watch UK – not much think, mostly tank

Migration Watch UK is a shabby pressure group masquerading as a think tank. The group’s neutral-sounding name masks its real concern with immigration. The group’s founder, Sir Andrew Green – a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, quoted at BBC News Online – isn’t trying very hard:

“You get on the Tube and you can barely move. London is stuffed with people. Under the present regime the numbers are going to keep going up and up and up.”

Migration Watch UK’s web site is clearer still. I can find no attempt to measure outward movements and no useful attempt to quantify the effects of migration – economic or social – beyond the repeated assertion that immigrants are less economically active and worse educated than natives. There’s no context at all. No data on birth rates or long range population forecasts, no links to external population authorities – only several pages of wickedly spun ‘data’ that would be unusable anywhere outside of a public bar and the much-publicised calculation that two million immigrants will arrive in the UK per decade from now on. To arrive at this number, Migration Watch UK’s crack statisticians took the home office’s annual numbers and multiplied by ten, making no subtraction for the falling birth rate in the UK or allowing for any trend in the data at all.

More depressing, in many ways, are the shallow and defensive counter arguments of the refugee and asylum seeker groups. They’re reduced to detailed arguments on speed of decisions, enforcement policy and dispersion – they’ve surrendered the principle entirely to the Daily Mail et al. It’s politically impossible to defend immigration to the UK right now. No mainstream group feels able to advance a pro-immigration line, or even a pro-asylum line, or a pro-refugee line. Only the free traders can comfortably propose opening the borders. Immigration will presumably remain a dirty word until the UK and European populations start to fall visibly, as they surely will. What we need is an enlightened combination of pragmatism and principle in support of immigration – before it’s too late.

I blogged this issue before in August, September and November.

Break up BT?

Last night I spoke at the launch of Demos’ latest report ‘The Politics of Broadband’. The authors have been bold in their conclusions (and perhaps incautious in their choice of sponsor) but we should expect that of a Think Tank whose average age seems to be about 19 (I make this observation because I am old and bitter). They’ve absorbed all the latest thinking from the US – Lessig, Open Spectrum, the ‘Innovation Commons’ and they want Government to get on and break up BT to dissolve the innovation log jam and get broadband roll-out moving. From the platform, Stephen Timms was nicer about this idea than I’d expected of the ecommerce minister (but it’s still a ‘no’) and Graham Wallace, who runs Cable & Wireless (the incautiously chosen sponsor), made a good case for the break-up (but then he would, wouldn’t he).

From the floor, Clare Spottiswoode, who, in an earlier life, split up Gas supply for the last Tory Government, couldn’t understand why it would be any more complicated to split up BT than British Gas and pointed to the wave of innovation and price cuts that followed that break-up. Wallace went further and argued that it would be ‘easy’ to split up the giant incumbent because of the elaborate system of interconnect agreements already in place at the telephone exchanges.

There was no consensus. Robin Mansell, Professor of New Media & The Internet at the LSE, was against – too complicated and disruptive by far. The most cogent argument against came from Claire Enders: the capital markets will have the casting vote, since they’ll have to fund the break-up, and they’re still on strike so we might as well forget it. I think it’s unwise to bet on apocalyptic infrastructural change to help us get Broadband Britain rolling while the tech and comms economy is still deep frozen. We’re going to need to be more tactical and less scornful of ‘incremental change’.