A key lesson in political fund-raising

President Clinton

President Clinton is Really Smart. Mountain View, California, 1995.

During his reelection campaign, President Bill Clinton attended a fundraiser thrown by the top CEOs of Silicon Valley. L. John Doerr (center) helped organize the visit at the home of Regis McKenna. During dinner, the CEOs peppered Clinton with questions related to complex technology, trade, and economic issues. Listening patiently, the president smoothly delivered a point-by-point response to each guest, revealing a jaw-dropping breadth of knowledge about all the issues, even obscure aspects of encryption technology. Everyone pulled out his checkbook and donated generously to the campaign.

Photo © Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

From Interview: Rare Photos Documenting Life in Silicon Valley during the Digital Revolution By Jenny Zhang August 28, 2015.

Mapping to the centimetre

Updating the map of Britain

If you think about maps, you probably think about Google Maps and Street View or sat nav hardware and software from TomTom, Garmin and many others.

Maps like these – all digital and available on almost any mobile device you choose – are light years on from paper maps and how map makers envisioned the role of maps and how people would use them. It’s hard to imagine trying to go anywhere these days using only a printed paper map.

The Ordnance Survey – founded in 1791, a government-owned company whose very existence began with military mapping – isn’t a name that springs to the front of my mind when I think about digital maps and modern map publishers. The OS is all about printed maps, isn’t it?

Far from it as even a cursory glance online will show.

A report in the FT yesterday day sets the modern Ordnance Survey in better context, saying that the global market for digital mapping is expected to grow from £99 billion in 2014 to £170 billion in 2020 as location-based services on smartphones and tablets transform everything from urban planning to emergency rescue services, transport and welfare.

And the FT includes this eye opener:

[…] the epicentre of the agency’s business remains the Mastermap: a record of every building, pavement, garden, statue, and fence in the nation tracked to 40cm accuracy. This provides raw data for Google and Microsoft maps, A-to-Z city maps, routes for rubbish trucks and the emergency services, bus companies, the AA breakdown service, and most in-car GPS systems – not to mention systems used by Domino’s Pizza to deliver hot food within 30 minutes.

Using two aircraft and 300 surveyors, the data are updated 10,000 times a day as buildings are knocked down and street lights and park benches added. The data are used by government agencies and local authorities and sold to private sector businesses, accounting for the bulk of OS’s income. Information such as ownership, sale values, power supply, schools or crime reports can be added.

The market for such information is developing – drones for delivery companies may need it; driverless cars may depend on it. Mobile phone company Nokia recently sold its mapping software to carmakers BMW, Audi and Daimler for £2bn.

I’ll think about the OS now in a wholly contemporary light, with Big Data at its heart as part of the foundational infrastructure that makes up the Internet of Things.

(Picture at top via OS on Flickr, used under CC license.)

Is Crowd Mics the answer to making events truly engaging?

Question

Such a familiar situation when you go to a conference:

Ever been part of an audience and wanted to participate in a live event?

Your options were limited: either raise your hand and project as far as your voice allows; or patiently await a wireless microphone to relay its way through the crowd.

Yep, that’s the picture I recall from every conference I’ve spoken at or attended in recent years.

So a BBC news item today got my attention with its report on a pretty neat-looking method of enabling real participation that I think would galvanize conferences and speaker engagement with those attending, aka the audience.

Imagine if there were a simple method of enabling anyone to ask a question or join in a conversation with an event speaker, a panel, etc, using their smartphone as a microphone. No special microphones, just an app on your own familiar phone that lets you speak.

Not only that, but also enable text messaging between participants and speaker. Easy instant polls as well.

A US-based company called Crowd Mics has done just that.

It’s simple to use:

  • Download Crowd Mics on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch
  • Plug that device into the sound system with the headphone port
  • Attendees download the free app for iOS or Android
  • Everyone connects to the same WiFi network
  • Watch audience interaction get real!

Take a look:

Conferences  just got more engaging. I’ve yet to see an event in the UK so enabled, but it’s just a matter of time, I bet.

(Photo at top by Cvent via Flickr CC-NC-ND-SA.)

The word on ad blocking

Mobile ad blocking

I run ad blocking software in the browser on my computer that prevents ads appearing on most web sites I visit. Chrome is my default browser; as I sign in to my Google account in Chrome, and have it sync across all my devices, I have the ad blocker available to me on all those devices including mobile. I have a white list of sites that I’m happy for ads to show, but they are few and far between.

There has been quite a bit of commentary over the past few weeks on the economic cost to business of ad blockers with one influential report saying that more consumers block ads, continuing the strong growth rates seen during 2013 and 2014.  There’s a trend there.

Consider these key points from the PageFair and Adobe 2015 Ad Blocking Report:

  1. Globally, the number of people using ad blocking software grew by 41% year over year.
  2. 16% of the US online population blocked ads during Q2 2015.
  3. Ad block usage in the United States grew 48% during the past year, increasing to 45 million monthly active users (MAUs) during Q2 2015.
  4. Ad block usage in Europe grew by 35% during the past year, increasing to 77 million monthly active users during Q2 2015.
  5. The estimated loss of global revenue due to blocked advertising during 2015 was $21.8 billion.
  6. With the ability to block ads becoming an option on the new iOS 9, mobile is starting to get into the ad blocking game. Currently Firefox and Chrome lead the mobile space with 93% share of mobile ad blocking

I have no compunction about using an ad blocker and I am utterly unimpressed by arguments that actions like this will put websites that have ads out of business, or that such blocking behaviour is unethical.

Marco Arment summarizes the situation very nicely:

Publishers don’t have an easy job trying to stay in business today, but that simply doesn’t justify the rampant abuse, privacy invasion, sleaziness, and creepiness that many of them are forcing upon their readers, regardless of whether the publishers feel they had much choice in the matter.

Modern web ads and trackers are far over the line for many people today, and they’ve finally crossed the line for me, too. Just as when pop-ups crossed the line fifteen years ago, technical countermeasures are warranted.

Web publishers and advertisers cannot be trusted with the amount of access that today’s browsers give them by default, and people are not obligated to permit their web browsers to load all resources or execute all code that they’re given.

Up your game, web advertisers and publishers! Make your ads such that people like me don’t mind them (at least); or can be influenced by them in a way that makes me want to engage with them (at best). You need to be thinking of your advertising as relationship-building content. Quartz has a good model.

See also:

(Image at top via TechAdvisor.)

Tweeting a joke can be no joke

Tweet withheld

Reports emerged late last week that Twitter is deleting tweets that copy another tweeter’s jokes.

The Verge reports on a writer’s request to Twitter to remove a tweet that used her content (a joke) without permission and thus infringed her intellectual property rights:

I simply explained to Twitter that as a freelance writer I make my living writing jokes (and I use some of my tweets to test out jokes in my other writing). I then explained that as such, the jokes are my intellectual property, and that the users in question did not have my permission to repost them without giving me credit.

The Verge says that Twitter did the take-down under the DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), a part of US copyright law introduced in 1998. It’s a complex piece of legislation but very broadly, it supports the rights of copyright holders to control access to and downstream use of their content. It’s controversial as it threatens the concept of fair use under US copyright law, among other things. (You can read more about DCMA on the US government’s copyright website.)

I am a bit nonplussed that such firm action is happening now as plagiarising someone’s content has been part of the Twitter landscape since Twitter started in 2006. That’s not to say it’s been okay to do that (it’s not okay), I’m just wondering why this has come up only now and about jokes rather than anything more substantive.

And these examples are about using someone else’s content as if it is yours – surely common sense would ring your alarm bell on that – and all the examples I’ve seen were original tweets not retweets.

Still, it is interesting and illustrates that copyright law does apply to anything you publish anywhere, even Twitter, and even a joke, and a takedown will happen if Twitter thinks your complaint is valid.

Equally interesting is the jurisdiction. DCMA is a US law – how will that work in other jurisdictions that are not subject to a US law like copyright? Here in the UK for instance?

I suppose in theory if you’re in, say, the UK or China or Brazil, you could go ahead and use someone else’s joke in your tweet and not worry about any US law. Twitter can still take it down if the creator of that joke complains to Twitter and there’s probably little you can do about it other than sue Twitter. Good luck!

Twitter joke

In thinking about this matter of jurisdiction, a little searching found Can You Copyright A Tweet?,  a most interesting post on the TechnoLlama blog in January that discusses this very topic from a broad European perspective.

On the matter of a tweet, ie, text up to 140 characters:

European copyright law does not have a minimal limit on what constitutes a protected copyright work. For example, the EU Copyright Directive 2001/29/EC makes it clear in Art 2 that the reproduction “in whole or in part” of a work is to be considered an infringement, not stating a minimum amount for what is “in whole or in part”. It has generally been accepted in case law that the copying of a part of a work has to be substantial in order to infringe, but similarly this is a very subjective test, as what makes up a substantial element of the work is left for the court to decide. The broad language in Art 2 led to the Court of Justice of the European Union to establish a very minimal definition for what is an original work. In Infopaq (Case C-5/08) the CJEU says that a work is original if it is the author’s “own intellectual creation”.

And:

Initially, if a tweet is protected by copyright, then its unauthorised reproduction “in whole or in part” would be copyright infringement. If I write a joke and it is copied in whole by someone else, then in theory I could sue for copyright infringement. But what about retweets? This is slightly trickier, as it is an important feature of twitter that makes the service richer. My own solution (and I am happy to be proven wrong here) is that any public account gives other users an implied licence to retweet the work. But what about non-automatic retweets, such as using the format: RT @technollama “I for one welcome our new 3D-printed Bitcoin drone overlords #yeswearethatold”. In my opinion, this would also be fine as long as it is clearly attributed, but I have no legal basis for the opinion other than it is common practice in the medium.

It is my firm belief that a large number of tweets in Europe are protected by copyright, and it is only a matter of time until this is tested in a case.

And intriguingly:

By the way, my tweets are licensed under a CC licence, so feel free to reproduce them as you see fit.

That’s a cat among the legal pigeons!

Is it time for a post-capitalism post-communism mashup?

The Guardian | An Age of Sharing

Books on politics and political issues rarely capture my attention or my imagination.

During the past decade, I have read just three books about politics, all biographies – Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Probably great fodder for Freudians who’d like to pop me in a pigeon-hole. Good luck with that!

My own self-analysis of why these works did attract me tells me that each addresses times and experiences of significant change and, indeed, upheavals in society, in political landscapes and more. Each author, either directly and/or via a ghost, weaves a compelling narrative that resonates strongly with my understanding and sense of contemporary society and the changes I might wish to see happen as well as those I’d rather not.

The politics in each – in terms of labels like left, centre and right – get largely ignored.

This morning, during my usual early-Saturday online news consumption and sharing time, I came across an article in The Guardian by journalist Paul Mason that did very much capture my attention and my imagination.

In the article, published on July 17, Mason lays out a deep rationale and the canvas for his forthcoming book that discusses a topic that is most interesting if you take the politics out of it – the successor to capitalism.

Titled simply PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, Mason’s book is described by publisher Penguin as “a guide to our era of seismic economic change, and how we can build a more equal society.” Clearly politics – and by that word, I mean class politics – will be very much a part of this no matter how I wish it weren’t.

After reading Mason’s piece in The Guardian, I thought about how would I sum up what the book’s about in a tweetable-length text? I came up with this:

Mason’s article is peppered with thought-provoking opinions to support his clear view that we are en route to a post-capitalist world that will capture your imagination, whether you agree or not.

To start with:

Without us noticing, we are entering the postcapitalist era. At the heart of further change to come is information technology, new ways of working and the sharing economy. The old ways will take a long while to disappear, but it’s time to be utopian.

Well, that got my attention. Thank God he didn’t say “It’s time to be dystopian” that you might expect from a journalist who, in his own words, “was a Leftie activist.”

Then this:

Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.

New forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts: a whole business subculture has emerged over the past 10 years, which the media has dubbed the “sharing economy”. Buzzwords such as the “commons” and “peer-production” are thrown around, but few have bothered to ask what this development means for capitalism itself.

And a paragraph that especially grabbed my attention:

There is, alongside the world of monopolised information and surveillance created by corporations and governments, a different dynamic growing up around information: information as a social good, free at the point of use, incapable of being owned or exploited or priced. I’ve surveyed the attempts by economists and business gurus to build a framework to understand the dynamics of an economy based on abundant, socially-held information. But it was actually imagined by one 19th-century economist in the era of the telegraph and the steam engine. His name? Karl Marx.

Karl Marx, as you will know, was a co-author of the Communist Party Manifesto, a publication I read in the 1970s and have always believed presents a Utopian view of a world that has never (can never?) been fulfilled as the failed dystopian Soviet project over a 70-year period clearly illustrated.

What Mason argues is for change within the current economic (and, I would argue, political) system rather than the “man the barricades” treatments you typically hear from ‘Leftie activists’ and those who talk about “we are the 99 percent,” etc. And, arguably, that’s what you see and hear today in much of the polarising rhetoric from the mainstream political Left.

So I like how Paul Mason makes his arguments for change with reality statements like this:

The modern day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, ageing populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long term. They have not yet had the same impact as the Black Death – but as we saw in New Orleans in 2005 [hurricane Katrina], it does not take the bubonic plague to destroy social order and functional infrastructure in a financially complex and impoverished society.

And finally:

Most 20th-century leftists believed that they did not have the luxury of a managed transition: it was an article of faith for them that nothing of the coming system could exist within the old one – though the working class always attempted to create an alternative life within and “despite” capitalism. As a result, once the possibility of a Soviet-style transition disappeared, the modern left became preoccupied simply with opposing things: the privatisation of healthcare, anti-union laws, fracking – the list goes on.

And so I have pre-ordered the Kindle edition of Mason’s book which will be published in the UK on July 30. Can’t wait to read it.

[Image at top via The Guardian.]