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Saturday, 28 April 2007

Online transactions: 18% > 25% - how?

I got a challenge: How do we go from 18 to 25% take-up for an online transaction?

In the question time at an egov conference I first asked about the biggest community site supplying potential transactees. The issue was very defined, annualised and the audience likewise.

Caveat: I've not and not likely to use it myself, so I can't speak to the usability of the transaction, except to say that this is your most important consideration - nothing is more important - and worth spending serious money to get right.

They got to 18% online take-up using the existing, extremely direct channels very, very well.

After the question — I had pointed to the use of online marketing, that they didn't make use of the online space — came the challenge.

Their prime barrier was that you can't say 'go here' for more information because the transaction happens at different times in different places. It's complicated.

There's no way, they say, that you could run a single promotion to a single spot because of the consequent drop-off as people discovered that they couldn't - yet - do the transaction. They had to come back.

Well the projects run by MySociety are all about pulling previous all-over-the-shop public information into one, easy-to-use, localised interface.

Not only that but geekdom and the current web 2.0 buzz is alive with mash-ups like livebus which take scrapeable, complex information into simple interfaces.

Plus, when they are seeing that the transaction isn't yet possible you capture their contact information so you can send them a reminder — see DiscoSarko.

  • The central barrier is fixable.

So how could you enter these spaces?

The transaction is a very important one. It represents what often gets termed a 'life event'.

This is exactly the sort of thing which is driving people to the web for more information, which as recent research has found is now most of the population.

  • This makes your numero uno priority Google — because that's where they start.

Think of the possibilities if you can 'capture' them at that point, using advertising across the broad spread of key phrases they use as they start off on that journey.

Think of big websites, or community, local websites, like you'd think of local shopping centres (like the ones hosting eVoting pilots) or Tesco sites - here I mean physical space.

  • Using the 'Web Channel' means getting into those spaces, not just the end point online that you manage.

On the community websites, where the transaction is already discussed
  • be there with sponsor or partnership arrangements,
  • supply content,
  • provide widget entry points into the transaction.
But most importantly you need to
  • sell the use of the transaction - and I mean usefulness.
If it saves time, remind, remind, remind.

What is your key selling point? At present for this transaction it seems to be 'it's possible to do this' — that's not really selling it.

So this involves spending more money in this area, but when online advertising spend now well outstrips all print, and has the potential to reach your exact audience so well, it's difficult to see why budgets don't shift — until you realise it's an egov transaction.

In commercial arenas setting such a target would be expected, perhaps seen as a low-aim. ROI on spend in that area for transfer of transactions is well-documented.

Postcript: searching for more about the people running the transaction I ended up first in a dead end — No web site is configured at this address.

This couldn't be a clearer two-fingers up technically to this project. Redirection being easy (and happening to other, similar, projects). The lady who posed the challenge was extremely nice so I did feel for her when I saw this.

Bytes · Older people e-vote - eCommunity + disabilities - DiscoSarko

  • One of the e-voting pilots in the local election is happening in Shrewsbury and they are reporting that the most use is by older people.

    By April 25, over eight hundred people had voted using the telephone or internet. This is a local election, remember. So that's a lot.
    Gareth Owens, deputy returning officer, said, "Many people believe that electronic voting will appeal more to younger people."

    "This time around we have been asking people for their date of birth as part of the security arrangements, and we have found that it is actually older voters who are using the system most. Indeed on one day we had three octogenarians visit the polling station in the Pride Hill shopping centre."
  • Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS) is a quarterly journal that publishes refereed articles addressing issues of computing as it impacts the lives of people with disabilities. It provides a technical forum for disseminating innovative research that covers either:
    applications of computing and information technologies to provide assistive systems to persons with disabilities, or
    investigations of computing technologies and their use by persons with disabilities.
    They have a current call for papers: Special Issue of ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS) onOnline Communities and People with Disabilities”.

  • The high turnout in the French Presidential elections is being sourced in part to the web.

    Headstar comments that the Sarkozy campaign created a satirical site Disco Sarko — you can put him on a dancefloor, give him a range of moves. As a method for generating a viral buzz, it's hard to better. Genius.

    Meanwhile Segolene Royal has a brilliant feature on her site inviting people to help create campaign graphics and videos — a way to harness the creativity of her support base, much as Cadbury’s has invited people to send in video clips with their own homemade ads for Creme egg.

    Addressing: 'e-créateurs'

    En tant que e-créateur, vous êtes en charge d'illustrer la campagne. Vous avez la charge de créer et d'"alimenter" les différents médias Internet qui nous soutiennent. La forme est multiple : création graphique, animations ou vidéos, conception de petits programmes pratiques et utiles, mise en forme de tracts.

    [This is translated by Google to: ' As a E-creator, you are in responsibility of illustrate the countryside. You have the responsibility of create and “to feed” the various media Internet which support us. The form is multiple: graphic creation, animations or vidéos, design of small practical and useful programs, formatted of leaflets.']
    It tells you how to 'Ouvrir un compte gratuit sur un serveur blog', showing excellent usability if I can find that with my crap French.

    There's a Jose Bove game where you have to destroy GM maize and mad cows in honour of the campaigner against McDonalds and globalisation .

    All the main candidates’ supporters have also constructed ‘islands’ on second life.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Today's customer service experience will be

Press one for ..

Had a meeting with my manager at Major Bank Brand and my first experience of their new on-screen focussed, customer service experience.

There really is something of the 'experience', 'ride' about it, or 'journey' - though as I write that my hearing of it is forever affected by Charlie Booker's bombastic pronunciation - stick your tongue on the bottom of your mouth and say 'jooourrnknee'. Basically , it feels like that because its not very familiar. You quickly become aware of the setting. It'll wear off.

The nice man runs you through the bloody obvious script, on screen. Proceeded at stages by lots of 'must say this' legal. Very stifled, straining to get spiel precisely correct. A shuffle shoes and weak smile moment.every five minutes.

After fifteen minutes, towards the end it starts going wrong. 'Will not accept'.
  • Poor nice man can't find easily and quickly where he's wrong.
  • Machine message repeats like a drill, carving through the 'experience', 'not correct' - but how not correct?
It's a hop and a skip from 'computer says no'.
  • Poor nice man then spends about five minutes trying to fix.
  • I watch how he uses his computer, he's quite efficient but not as much as could be, which costs time you're very aware of.
But, at base, he's let down by the interface and the program and what it's feeding back to him — he can't easily see a way out. Neither can I as I start peeking and trying to figure it out meself (wouldn't everyone?).
  • He's actually quite quick and when I say the word 'interface' at the end he's knows what I mean.
  • So what happens in very different scenarios?
It's easy to imagine the time added up, the business lost. It's easy to imagine endless comic scenarios.

This has very obviously, to my eyes, not been properly tested and here it was costing them money, time, brand value and all the rest. Visibly ticking away, or rather being chipped away at is a better analogy.

Very odd for me being stuck in this loop as a customer as I wanted to lean over and tell him to give up, I was going back to work, I could see it was hopeless.

Fortunately the human being wasn't a robot and through basic human communication the brand value wasn't actually impaired and other aspects of the system that worked - 'you might like' - really succeeded in getting over any unease about my financial life being laid out in such plain detail, on quite a large screen, fortunately not in a busy room. And the appallingly shoddy clip-art graphics.
  • But the usability flaws and the robotic scripting did real damage.
  • And he didn't appear to know what to do about it, he seemed resigned.
This makes the scenario much worse as it's central premise of a blissful, profitable customer service experience is completely undermined and how could it be fixed? How would they know?

After so many examples of new big business systems like this going tits up and immensely damaging brands, you'd think the test and test again message because of base ROI would have sunk in.

Thursday, 26 April 2007 - brill new gmaps mashup

Amazing mash-up from James Wheare/ Sparemint Design. mashes RealTime bus information to gmaps very, very well. All in a great interface.

Only covers Oxfordshire and Surrey, but is anyone else in the world doing this?

About this site

This website is an improved interface for live bus times in the UK. It works by combining real time updates from local authorities with a searchable database of bus stops across the country. You can search for a bus stop by name, locate it on a map or browse by bus routes or locality to find the stop you need.

If you're on the move, you can also receive updates direct to your mobile through the traveline-txt service. Just find your bus stop on, note down its SMS phrase (e.g. oxfadaja) and follow the instructions carefully. Messages can cost up to 25p on top of your operator's usual SMS charges, so make sure you fully understand the terms.

If live updates aren't available or convenient, most routes also link to scheduled timetables, courtesy of traveline. is not affiliated with traveline, any local authorities, bus companies, or the Department for Transport and is freely provided as an alternative to existing services.

The maps are not yet working in Internet Explorer.

I'd love to hear your comments.

Hampstead Heath

[That Mirror headline is too good not to nick ... ]

Dead ex-Tory PM Ted Heath has been outed.

Ya gotta laugh. Here's the rather desperate comment in the Times:

Any suggestion that the late Sir Edward Heath was ever cautioned for improper sexual behaviour would need much better evidence than has so far been offered.
And this is Matthew Parris, but it's the tone of the phlegmatic old Tory establishment ("absolute bollocks!', 'My gay colleagues never said a word'...) .

I guess they all need a pet Gay now, these pillars of the establishment ...

Parris is forgetting the era and his own life experience.

If Heath was gay it's very likely he tried it out at least once, when he was young. At that time gay men lived in a Police State, so the idea that he brushed up against that is not at all ridiculous.

Parris forgets what life was like (see Dirk Bogarde in Victim). He claims Heath would have been discrete, but what about before he could ensure protection?

Heath was before my time but in the early 80s I was very active in politics.

Attending Labour conferences you soon found out who the gay MPs were. There were a lot. And a lot of them were not at all discrete.

I remember one very cute members of our gay activist mob being hit on all the time. But we're all expected to keep the secret.

The Party protected them and kept the secret. Many were well known to be closeted, even if they didn't realise. I'm not going to say who from that time is now a heck of a lot more powerful.

At the same time, we also all knew, just from being in the community, who the gay/bi Tories were - and those haven't all been outed yet and some were extremely powerful.

Parris does comment however, describing how this works from a gay male perspective:

"As a young Tory MP, I escorted his car into my constituency, leather-jacketed on my motorbike, I used to notice the twinkle in Ted’s eye. He thought my costume and conduct a total hoot, never failed to remind me of it."

This is gaydar + how you know, if you're gay. They notice very cute men. Ow, the secret's out ...

Closeted gay men are not the camp ones - they are very often the hyper-straight ones (and not as a defence mechanism). They're the ones not very interested in Boobs and Boob culture (i.e. Jordan/Kylie - actually Kylie is probably a fail safe, I have yet to meet a straight man who doesn't fancy her).

He's got this one right too:

"Women at his table — and there were few — tended to be ignored unless they stood up for themselves."

Very true in my experience of closeted gay men of his generation, very often misogynist.

Heath-types, who bury and deny themselves so deeply that they become a-sexual are still around and are protected.

The whole thing makes complete sense to me, Matthew.

I thought 'googling' yourself meant the other thing ...

oh baby, feel the zeitgeist.

Marge Gamer Episode Number: 395 Season Num: 18 First Aired: Sunday April 22, 2007

Marge becomes a spectacle during a PTA meeting for not having an e-mail address, and she decides to take a chance on using the Internet. Amazed and delighted by all the Internet has to offer, Marge decides to join a popular role-playing fantasy game named "Earthland Realms." To Marge's dismay, the game has her interacting with practically the whole town of Springfield, including Bart, who happens to be the game's most feared and destructive player. Meanwhile, Homer saves Lisa's soccer game from cancellation after he volunteers to take the place of a referee who recently quit. However, Homer's refereeing skills only exasperate Lisa, and her competitive streak gets the best of her.


This episode gets a 3 out of 7.

More DoubleClick/Google madness

Washington Post, Steve Pearlstein:
There may never have been a Google without the government's antitrust suit that prevented Microsoft from crushing upstart rivals. By the same principle, isn't it time to begin restraining Google to increase the odds another Google will come along.
HUH!? Firstly, MS was going nowhere in search and Google just plain beat them. Second, all the innovation is not producing anti-trust claims. There is no same principle. The issue is control/policing of data/content, not code. Lastly, is this some sort of new secret sauce for darwinian economic dynamism? - build 'em up then crush them - or just another version of the tall-poppy syndrome.

Criticise Google for what it needs to be criticised for. I swear, the mainstream media just gets worse and worse in it's coverage of the web ...

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Questioning stats

The BBC carries a virtual press release from Comscore, Web counting tools 'need change'.

Key bit:

In comScore's study, an analysis of 400,000 home PCs in the US found that a hardcore minority of web users are clearing their cookies from their computers on a regular basis.

This causes servers to deposit new cookies which in turn could lead to an over-estimate of unique users to a particular website.

It found that 7% of computers accounted for 35% of all cookies, which extrapolated could mean the size of a site's audience is being overstated by as much as 150%, said comScore.

"It is clear that a certain segment of internet users clears its cookies very frequently. These 'serial resetters' have the potential to wildly inflate a site's internal unique visitor tally, because just one set of 'eyeballs' at the site may be counted as 10 or more unique visitors over the course of a month," explained comScore president Dr Magid Abraham.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, comScore offers a very different approach to audience measurement - using the panel-based system favoured by the TV and radio industries which relies on using a representative sample of net users to gauge behaviour.

The problem being not just the claims but this very strong statement in response to these claims of 'the potential to wildly inflate' by the industry body, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (which isn't on the BBC):

The goal of the IAB and the entire Interactive industry is simple: to achieve transparency in audience counts and to revise out-of-date methodologies.

For the Interactive industry, one that is committed to delivering accountability, integrity in audience measurement is a fundamental necessity. But, despite a multiplicity of reported discrepancies in audience measurements, comScore and NNR each has resisted numerous requests for audits by the IAB and the Media Ratings Council since 1999.

In order to establish the source of these discrepancies, and to find the potential solutions, the IAB is asking that both comScore and NNR obtain audits of their technologies and processes by the Media Rating Council (MRC).

‘We simply cannot let the Internet, the most accountable medium ever invented, fall into the same bad customs that have hindered older media and angered advertisers for decades,’

Which kindof undermines any numbers from comScore but also puts the industry's approach in context - comScore has their approach to flog.

This, I'd suggest, should also feature in a BBC technology correspondent's considerations:

Or this, from Steve Rubel:

Comscore Clings to a Page View World

I have no reason to pick on the fine folks at comScore Media Metrix. However, despite some recent indications that they want to change, it seems as though they are clinging to the days of yore when hits were all that ruled.

Consider this analysis published yesterday by Ars Technica. The piece reports: "comScore has said that they are working on new metrics that will also take into account the trappings of Web 2.0, including interactive AJAX-driven web pages which do not necessarily generate page views." That doesn't sound like bad news, right? Wrong.

Further down in the piece Dr. Magid Abraham, President and CEO of comScore Networks, added: "While page views will not altogether cease to be a relevant measure of a site's value, it's clear that there is an increasing need to consider page views alongside newer, more relevant measures." Abraham, however, doesn't say what that solution is. The reason could be such metrics could have severe ramifications for comScore's business model, which feeds off a hit-driven economy that's dying.

Comscore needs to wake up and realize that we're in a Long Tail world where top 10 lists matter less. Marketers want to know about the influence circles within the niches that matter to them - and those niches are often tiny. The time is now for comScore to open up to the little guy.

Quantcast is going to eat comScore's lunch. They recognize that partnering with the crowd is essential to measuring it. Comscore seems to slow to adopt to this model and it's highly possible they will become irrelevant in this world if they don't change fast.

What the BBC's report also mentions is debate about time spent on sites:

RuneScape - 6hrs 32mins
Electronic Arts Online - 3h 07m
Bebo - 2h 37m
Facebook 2h 28m
eBay - 1h 55m - 1h 53m
Adventure Quest - 1h 35m
Fox Interactive Media (MySpace) - 1h 11m
Club Penguin - Ih 10m
Cartoon Network - 1h 09m
*Source: Nielsen
But again, someone has something to flog:
Page-views metrics discriminate against sites with audio and video content and Nielsen/NetRatings argues that metrics based on the time spent on a website could be a more accurate method.

You can understand why the IAB sound so annoyed with NNR/comScore ... all this noise, which the Beeb adds to, distracts from the actual standards agreed by all.

TV Turn-off week

It's TV Turn-off Week - started by the fabulous AdBusters, who are Canadian (not America as some have billed them).

It's all a bit puritanical but they're trying to get this video (score by Philip Glass and footage by Godfrey Reggio, NB, it's Art) to go viral.

It has something to say about kids and TV.

Aric Sigman
"TV is so hugely powerful because, compared to the pace with which real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, it portrays life with the fast-forward button fully pressed. Rapidly changing images, scenery and events, and high-fidelity sounds are overly stimulating and, of course, extremely interesting.

"Once you are used to food with monosodium glutamate flavour enhancer, real food doesn't taste as interesting. Television is the flavour enhancer of the audiovisual world, providing unnatural levels of sensory stimulation. Nothing in real life is comparable to this. Television overpays the child to pay attention to it, and in so doing it seems to physically spoil and damage his attention circuits."

Monday, 23 April 2007

Directgov games Google, wants help

Interesting ...

I've been alerted that Local Directgov is asking councils to help improve Directgov's ranking on Google, by providing links so that councils can deep-link their websites to Directgov.

Directgov, by the way, offers a "proven successful citizen delivery channel". Yikes.
"Use the supplied 'link text' in the spreadsheet for your text link. This will help to improve the ranking of Directgov in search results which will benefit users by increasing the visibility of government information"
What I'm asked is whether this would impact negatively on the Councils.

The short answer is no, same as linking to anywhere isn't a negative, but - excluding the time involved to do it - it wouldn't be a very significant positive — I would think, I don't do this full-time but I'm racking my brains here.

There doesn't appear to be a quid pro quo. Also, the deep-link is to content which may be bettered elsewhere — there is a developing content market in many areas Directgov covers, so why prioritising linking to them "for more information"? Is it just the link they want, or the traffic?

The thing is, Google is not (just) a machine! It's humans, who you can ring up (these people strike deals y'know). And Google's algorithm is tweaked such that it ranks some sites more highly than others. This is PageRank, with human input.

That was one of the main points Teddie Cowell, of SE specialists Neutralize, made at a Public Sector Forums event in January.

He said that Directgov had a unique opportunity to help councils by talking to Google in order to collectively raise all Council's PageRanks. Teddie demonstrated that there is extreme variance in Council's results.

Here's one of his diagrams;

Average & visits from Google
Average % visits from Google

His presentation is summarised here.

The other — very obvious to experts eyes I'd bet — point is exactly why Directgov need the help of councils in boosting their PageRanks in the first place.

Truth is, they are linked to from very few places for the site that they are. They - presumably, want to boost their Rank in certain areas, so why don't the other - non-governmental - specialists in those areas link to them?

When Google first arrived, this was the key to their algorithm - linking. And who links means credibility, roughly.

That has been well and truly gamed but - thinking of humans again - how does Directgov appear to Google? Unlinked, that's how.

Running a campaign getting links elsewhere (than Councils) would be far more effective, on many, many levels — alongside a better targeted online ad strategy (though at least that's started).

They need to get in with these sort of guys ....

Trend history
directgov upmystreet

Or these

Trend history
directgov mumsnet

Or they could adopt the tactics of Transport Direct, who encourage people to link to their site through providing a very useful Widget.

In the United States Government agencies are working with Google.
Users performing a search think, “ ‘I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and I need information.’ They don’t think about their information sources,” said J.L. Needham, who represents Google’s public sector content partnership. “But if people can’t find something, they blame it on Google, not the government.”

To boost their rankings on search lists, agencies have been working with Google to develop sitemaps, which are Extensible Markup Language-based lists of Web addresses that point to database records.

Dennis Rodrigues, chief of the online information branch for the National Institutes of Health, called the sitemap project a win-win for federal Web sites and search engines. Rodrigues coordinates sites for 27 separate agencies under the health agency’s umbrella.

“I think a lot of the breadand- butter stuff agencies have on the Web sites [was] already carefully indexed,” Rodrigues said. The bulk of searches sent to NIH Web sites are for health problems, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. But it would be harder for someone looking for information on a particular gene or protein, he said. The information would be buried in a database.

Rodrigues said developing sitemaps is more about creating “a better quality of the site’s index and covering all the disparate, eclectic information.” The goal of the project is to boost the quality of search results, rather than the quantity.

“As federal providers, we have a lot of concern about whether or not the public is going to be able to find our information, especially about health information,” Rodrigues said. “We know with the ever-growing volume of information on the Web, it’s easy to become lost in a sea of data.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

'Simplicity' in web design

When Google came along the first reaction of most people was to the design. 'Clean', 'uncluttered' — 'simple' was the dominant first take.

But we generally don't want any of this in a product, especially one we tell others about.

As Don Norman, points out:
"I also know that companies have to make money, which means they have to deliver the products that their customers want, not the products they believe they should want. And the truth is, simplicity does not sell."
Gerry McGovern discusses on his blog why we buy complexity even when the simple option would be better? And how does this false dichotomy relate to websites?
  • We do judge a book by its cover; we do think beauty is skin deep. If something looks complicated, then we immediately assume that it must be powerful; must have greater value.
  • We love to show off. Complexity is like the peacock's feathers. It is brash and impossible to miss. Complexity lets other people know how clever we are and how rich, because we can afford such complexity.
  • We might not need all these fancy features right now, but there might be some time in the future when we will. Buying complexity insures us against future need.
  • None of the above conditions operate on a website.
  • We don't pay for visiting a website with our money; we pay for it with our time .. there is a strong motivation to spend as little time as possible.
  • Websites are about the present, not the future. Investing in a product is about predicting all the future uses we may have for it. Visiting a website is about now.
  • We like websites that resemble websites we're used to visiting, because they are more familiar and easier to navigate.
  • When we go to Google we are usually alone. We search for cheap flights, but we certainly don't go around advertising that we're cheap.
Our web behavior is:
  • Relentlessly simple and hugely impatient.
  • We use the Web during the ad breaks for The Daily Show.
  • We simply don't have time to waste on complex navigation, convoluted language, or the vanity publishing of navel-gazing organizations.

This is Nielsen's “F” pattern:
Users had more fixations at the beginning of a line than the end of a line, and also the fixations were more for the first few lines than for subsequent lines.

However, as the Poynter Institute just found, studying news websites, if you grab people and get their attention they will read your copy.
Readers select stories of particular interest and then read them thoroughly. Nearly two-thirds of online readers, once they chose a particular item to read, read all the text.
They labelled this, The Myth of Short Attention Span.

Discussing the Report on American Public Radio's Marketplace Alan Jacobson of Brass Tacks Design underlined this point:
For instance, if you had a 2,000-inch story about Princess Diana, any Anglophile will read every column inch of that story regardless of the format. I worked with an editor once who told me, "Alan, they will read it if we print it on a paper bag, if they care about it."
How do you grab attention?
Research subjects also were quizzed about what they learned from a story, revealing that readers could answer more questions about a story when it included “alternative story forms,” such as
  • Q&A’s,
  • timelines,
  • graphics,
  • short sidebars, and
  • lists.
Webwrights will see this in their logs - an audience who spend a lot of time on your site.

This is important as the take-away around simplicity is often just that - give them nothing else.

As Poynter underlines, people want to search and scan websites for the content nugget they want quickly. But once they've found it, they want everything you've got - all the detail, including the shipping costs.

They want longer pieces, if it's useful (which it often is).

If you behave like some websites - Virgin's new website say (I'm a customer) - and only give them the nuggets and hide the depth - you fall back into a user's judgement that beauty is skin deep.
If something looks complicated, then we immediately assume that it must be powerful; must have greater value.
Portraying the complexity behind the simplicity is the real key in web design.

Ireland awards political vloggers, UK talks regulation

Spot the difference. has created the Online Irish Politics Awards to recognise what they're calling 'digital doorstepping'.

Organiser Cian O'Flaherty said:
"This will be the first Irish general election with a lot of participants experimenting with online media like YouTube, Bebo pages and blogs."

"There's probably going to be an awful amount of crap put out there -- frankly -- and we want to reward those who make a real effort before a jaundiced view of the internet and Irish politics sets in."

"A lot of journalists have been jeering at the internet in terms of its effect on politics here and jeering at politicians for not engaging the youth vote."

"These awards might help deflect that cynicism. Yes, a lot of 20- to 30-year-olds don't vote, but if they can discuss politics in a medium they can relate to it gives them an improved sense of ownership of the process."

"Some of the political advertising companies and spin doctors may not like this because they advise and control 'image' and 'message' but tools like e-mail allow general access to politicians, and although it doesn't beat meeting people in person on the campaign trail, it can work well if done in the right way."

Irish politicians are nothing if not ambitious online, going by the soundtrack to this video:

Meanwhile in the UK The Electoral Commission and Ofcom are said to be watching web campaigning closely, at least initially to keep track of election spending.

Ofcom says that it's jurisdiction only extends to "a website broadcasting pictures which filled the full screen".
"If it looks and feels like television, it might well be subject to regulation," an excited spokesman said.
The EU's extremely controversial audio-visual media services directive, which will increase the regulation of video content on the web, is due to come into force in 2009.

Ofcom is, of course, wetting itself:
"That will shake up the way we regulate and will bring many more services under the scope of regulation - but we are not there yet."

Google backlash, latest versions

The Google backlash now has it's own meme. amongst those contributing:
  • The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, who think they're blocking quotes by their spokesman, the legendary Dr John, from Google News because of their criticism around the New Orleans maps controversy.

  • The ex-owners of DodgeBall, whose SMS social networking software was acquired then mothballed:
    "The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us - especially as we couldn’t convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space."

  • The American Blind & Wallpaper Factory (ABWF), the US's biggest reseller of window blinds, whose legal case for trademark infringement is going forward. AdWords allows the use of competitor's trademarked names.

  • Three US public-interest groups who've brought a joint complaint to the Federal Trade Commission about a potential threat to consumer privacy following the acquisition of DoubleClick.

  • Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the WPP advertising group in the UK, who also criticised the DoubleClick deal, claiming it would give Google an 83% share of the contextual and targeted online advertising market.
    "Google is a short-term friend and a long-term enemy and probably the shorter term just got a little bit shorter and the longer term got a bit closer as a result of the DoubleClick acquisition."

    "I think the DoubleClick acquisition clearly raises some regulatory issues which a number of media owners, publishers and competitors like Microsoft are very exercised about."

    He also said that it raised issues, "as to whether we are happy to let Google have our client's data and our own data which Google could use for its own purposes."
  • The Daily Telegraph, who following the recent Belgian court case where Google was ordered to stop aggregating a Belgian newspaper's content, are making similar noises.

  • Video content providers (including the TV Networks' owners) are lining up against them. AdSense is being geared up to distribute content.

  • As part of Rupert Murdoch's general clearance of competitors from MySpace, they've launched a Google News competitor.

  • The New York Times added lustre to the anti-Google meme with a feature this week.

    Complaints range from them hoarding all the talent, causing a 25 to 50 percent salary inflation for engineers in Silicon Valley, to the belief that Google is using up all the good "ideas":
    That's just the way it works in this country. Any time any thing gets too big, it eventually starts to die a slow death from the backlash that always rears its ugly head. I certainly can see why people are comparing Google to Microsoft. It does look like they are following in their footsteps… But, I'm pretty sure that Microsoft will be glad that there there is someone else to take the heat off of them.

this meme has history. Back in 2003, when PageRank lawsuits were appearing in the courts and people were complaining that blog posts were prominent in SERPs, Salon wrote:
Google's halo is beginning to tarnish. Much of this has to do with the influence the firm now wields in virtually every corner of the Web ... Google is so good that it's now seen, in some ways, as an arbiter of truth, a kingmaker.


Park at my house?

I'm not sure whether this represents an advance or going backwards rapidly. Whatever, it wouldn't be happening if not for the Web. confronts the reality of car use and promotes space-efficient parking by tapping into a readily available but unexploited resource.

By enabling and encouraging compact, off-road parking, will prevent parked vehicles from clogging up the streets and contributing to congestion. This in turn will make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists and improve accessibility for public transport and emergency vehicles.

We also hope that will help cut down the amount of carbon emitted by vehicles circumnavigating areas in search of a parking space. You’ve probably never given it a thought but you’d be amazed at how much extra energy we burn as we drive round the block looking for a spot and queue to get into car parks. Cumulatively, it all adds up.

On a similar note, if property-owners use to make spaces available and parking easy for drivers around major public transport hubs, the service will help promote so-called ‘integrated travel’ whereby people use their car for one part of their journey before parking it and hopping on the bus, train or tube to reach their destination. That’s much better for carbon emissions than driving the whole way.

And last but not least, if can preserve land by reducing the need to concrete over green turf and build new parking facilities, we’d be very happy.

Listing your available parking space(s) on is completely free.

If you are a space owner potential parkers will contact you directly through the site to make an enquiry about your parking space. If you complete a parking space transaction through the website, full payment for the space will be received by On the 15th of each month, will transfer all fees received for your parking space from the previous month minus a 10% + £0.25 commission charge. For more information about our fees please view our terms and conditions.

We also have an optional membership scheme. For more information please visit our membership information page.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Bytes · YouTube duped - niche PPC - spindifferent

  • A teenager from Perth, Western Australia got hundreds of videos removed from YouTube by pretending to be Australia's BBC.

    The easy acceptance of fake 'take-down' requests was of concern to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

    They make the show featured in the clips, “The Chaser’s War on Everything”, whose highlights (no, really, it's funny - all right, it's a tad parochial) include - Dongers [M - Sexual references - the cinema rating being a legacy of Australia's Internet laws], burglary made easy, Abbott hybrids and wanker ringtones.

    Said Head of ABC-TV comedy Courtney Gibson, , who positively want the clips out there:
    "Everyone does dumb stuff when they are fifteen."

    "But what was of concern to us was the fact that YouTube was sending copyright infringement notices to people who have been uploading Chaser clips to YouTube, threatening to shut down their access to YouTube if they persist. That's what was worrying to us,"

  • Charities and non-profit organisations have been encouraged to 'think niche' to effectively run and manage pay-per-click campaigns.

    Speaking on the final day at Search Engine Strategies New York, Ettore Rossetti, associate director for internet marketing at Save The Children, said that charities and non-profit organisations need to focus when they launch PPC campaigns.
    "Being small, niche and narrow is better than being broad," he said. "Trying to be number one in narrow categories specific to your identity is often better than doing the same in broader categories where others are trying to do the same."
    I was recently searching around pregnancy and noticed both the NHS + directgov running PPC campaigns but not necessarily on the best keyphrases, e.g. 'pregnancy bath'.

  • A new “cook book” for citizen journalism — or any group interested in setting up a citizen media site or encouraging citizen participation in an existing site — is Hartsville Today: The first year of a small-town citizen journalism site [PDF 1.1mb].

    It shares the experiences of the first year of community site Hartsville Today. Documenting in detail the steps they took, from deciding on a web site domain name to training staff.
    “In addition to covering all the aspects, we think it is the first major extended study of such a site, the postings and their contributors,” says author Douglas J. Fisher on his blog, Common Sense Journalism.

    From the Guide:
    “You’ve got to know your community. You can’t just put a link up there and say, ‘OK, we’re open for the participation business,’ because no one understands what that means. ... “You need to keep it simple, make it fast and easy, and minimize the number of rules that you have.”

  • From Sam Smith:

    One of the reasons for doing was to make it possible to do US - UK comparisons of what the leaderships of the "Executive branch" (ish, in the case of UK) were saying on topics, and being able to look at them side by side.

    That site is and is open for business.

    As part of building that, someone had the idea that since the UN's Secretary General has an Official Spokesman, in the same way as the UK Prime Minister and the US Press Secretary, we
    could add them too. (but we're still waiting for the logo for it).

    One advantage that this gives spinDifferent is the change to look at where things come on agendas - look at the Sudan example, and you can see something that the UN is spending more time talking about something that the US and UK aren't that much. Looking at issues of interest in one or other countries, you see how they treat the same issues. In some, it's completely different (health), but there may be very different policies underneath.

    From About

    The picture at the top of the page is a picture of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic - policies matter. See the difference in their view on trees. (Photo from "An Inconvenient Truth")

  • Thoughtplay big up the excellent new stats mash-up website, Swivel.
    Further to our observations on correlating T-shirt sales to political success, data fans will love Swivel - a site which invites users to submit sets of data of any kind, and then make daft (or possibly insightful) comparisons between them. For example, this chart want to suggest wine drinking and violent crime are mutually exclusive. No great surprises there, perhaps.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

'Scaring the hell out of China'

Fascinating post by James Fallows on HuffPost about the reaction to the VTech massacre in China.

One reporter called the shooter as a Chinese student on the first night.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported Monday that the Virginia Tech shooter is a 24-year-old man from China.
This was then picked up by FoxNews and Drudge - but no-one else - and it then reached China.

Very, very quickly, the Chinese government blocked web access to news stories and downplayed the news internally

All from just one reporter's error, and the story has now been removed (it can only be found here).

The American night was the Chinese day, so it was many hours before the rest of the media's reporting overwhelmed this one report in the Chinese mind.

This Chinese blogger described it as 'scaring the hell out of China'.
During the twelve hours between Sneed’s column hitting the shelves and the official statement, China was quivering. A host of international websites carried the story “Chinese student suspected of Virginia massacre” [Google has this]. The main international news agencies wisely chose to wait for the official statement much to the relief of Xinhua. Alarm bells were ringing on the eighth floor, which is home to the international news department, and there was a flurry of activity to work out how to report the nationality of the gunman.. the senior editors were delighted when “South Korea” was read out at the press conference. Back-slapping and congratulations ensued - one editor said that it would have been a inconceivable loss of face if the gunman had been Chinese.
As Fallows puts it:
Eventually the Chinese started to assume that it must be true. Otherwise, how could an American journalist dare go public, fast and alone, with a detailed claim sure to cause international ripples?

Sick profiteering

Profiteers moved in on the US campus massacre almost before the last shot was fired.

Domain names, and have already been sold. was offered for auction on eBay with an image of an assault rifle and described as the "perfect domain name for any memorandum or other site dedicated to the recent mass killings at Virginia Tech."

One asked for $100,000 for five sites in an ad decorated in American flags and described as "Great Domain Names for a Memorial Fund Development….Our Hearts go out to all the victims and families of Virginia Tech Massacre!"

The owner of says that he's been getting hate mail:

"I didn't think it through. I was just thinking about the money first."

Also being bought up are the victims name and has already been bought by The Etrader., and others using the victim's names are even selling PPC ads.

This reminds me of the Columbine killings, which was widely blamed on the Internet, where the makers of Web Filters within hours were using it for marketing.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Google domination nears total

Heather Hopkins reports that Google's UK search share is now 79%
The last time I updated the figures was for SES London in February. Since then, Google has gained 2%, up from 77.77% to 79.38% of the UK search market.
This is a very different picture to the United States, where Google is 50% of the search market by comScore and 64% by Hitwise.

Google's European share is lowest at 61% in Sweden and reaches 95% in Spain. In Australia it's 86%.

In Hong Kong, Yahoo! dominates, but in Singapore it's Google again. Baidu is top search engine in China.

Worldwide, comScore World Metrix has Google Sites 503,033 Total Unique Visitors (000) and Yahoo! Sites 458,985

Andy Kaveniac from writes me that Google is now near two-thirds US market.

On their blog:

Google just keeps going and going … almost puts the Energizer Bunny to shame. Google market share gained another 2ppts in March. So here’s a question. If Google gains one more point in market share, will we lose our veto power? That’s right, for all intents and purposes two-thirds of the 6.4 billion web search queries in the US pass through the Google servers.
(He's referring to the Presidential veto over Congress)

I should note the differences in numbers/shares etc. Anything which falls outside the normal variance is about the different counting methods, but the clarity of the trend does point to the best way to look at stats - compare yer apples with yer apples, otherwise look for the trends. Especially for non-full-timers ;]

Monday, 16 April 2007

The worst kind of homophobia ..

.. is the kind that comes masked in a smile or from an erstwhile friend.

Corny and, unfortunately, provocative I know. But it's something gay men get used to and it's pretty accurate for Michael Mullaney, a Councillor in Birmingham.

He's using YouTube to highlight issues which ordinary people have in his area. No problem there then, great use of technology.

The use of video comes clanging to the ground though when he and his colleagues focus on an issue which some locals have with some gay men who share the same park.

Here's how he calls it:
Anti-social activities in Highbury Park
This video is not for the easily offended. We describe anti-social activities in the historic Highbury Park in Birmingham and what the Council are going to be doing to reduce them.
It's difficult to know where to start (the video is just a classic).

It's him and a couple of others wondering around a park picking up condoms amongst some bushes and Oooing and expressing amazement at the presence of chairs.

Mate, it's a cruising area, as are hundreds of other areas around the country. Many are historic. It's the part of gay history which isn't found in Gay History Month.

In Hampstead they all live very happily together: the 'sex pests' and the 'happily marrieds' (yeah gods do you really think the two never meet!?), in a terribly nice and very English way.

I'll admit it here, I am a now middle-aged gay man who has distinct memories of having had sex in the open air in the past, like many, many, many other gay men - best (yeah gods I'll regret this but the moment calls for it ...) ever on a wonderful clifftop by the Pacific - and most of my straight friends who'd talk about such things have too (remote field of a hazy summer anyone?). But Cllr., when I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to get laid I absolutely didn't want to be seen by anyone else.

This is normal stuff, LIFE lived Cllr. Nothing at all wrong with it, especially if you use condoms.

Part of the travel industry practically sells itself on the promise of (heterosexual) sex on a beach. Maybe not your (excuse my presumption) 'happy family' life, though often the precursor, but a valid one nevertheless.

But, according to the Cllr., I'm a criminal along with probably most of the rest of the country. Us 'al fresco sex pests'.

Now he stresses, at length, almost to the point of satire, that he isn't homophobic. He has gay friends and even went to a parade. If this was straight people it'd be the same. blah, blah ..

To quote from his numerous comments accompanying the video:
"I'm a weird homophobe since I support gay marriage and gay couples adopting children. So how do you square that?"
Firstly, it's Civil Partnerships, not marriage and yes that is a very important distinction which marks second-class status, one fought tooth-and-nail over, and secondly it would be illuminating to know what - precisely - he is doing for gay people apart from turning up to events and supporting party policy and what everyone supports? His website appears to be empty.

A quick Google turns up news of increasing reports of homphobic attacks in Birmingham. Here's one:
I was sitting on the top deck of the bus in Birmingham when I felt something hit the back of my head. A group of school kids had started throwing stuff at me. I turned around and asked them to stop but they grouped up and started to kick and punch me. There were a number of people on the bus but not one tried to help me. I ran downstairs and reported what had happened to the bus driver, but he didn't take much notice. I got off the bus and went straight to the police station, where I got myself cleaned up. The most humiliating thing was that I have a colostomy and in the attack the bag had come off.

The police took all my details, but they could not find the CCTV footage from the bus; I discovered that day that it's not always on in Birmingham. No further action was taken against the perpetrators, and to this day I still cannot go upstairs on a double-decker bus.
We have an epidemic of anti-gay bullying in schools, ruining the life chances of thousands of gay kids every year, and politicians like Mullaney are completely disinterested.

So the video speaks for itself.

Whenever he refers to 'objectionable to the general public' it is clear what he's referring to - gay sex - and it's clear who he's addressing. Of course gay sex is 'objectionable' to [some] straight people (particularly straight men)! That doesn't mean you pay any attention Mr Representative of All Your Community!

Are you honestly trying to tell me that a dogging site would elicit this stuff? Point me at one single episode about dogging like his video. One.

Yes, I would want the place cleaned up as well and flashing and littering is bad, but public sex is a misdemeanour and it's the fact that he choose to use this as a campaigning tool for votes — ignoring or dismissing the effects — and that he ignores the plain fact that people have sex outdoors all the time. Including elsewhere in his area/every area.

Did you lose your virginity in the back of a car? Or a fumble behind the bikesheds? Never, ever, ever done it outside? Or were you one of his so-called 'normal' 'general public'?

Councillor, people do it because it's FUN and NORMAL. Remember fun? Some people think sex is fun. What a radical, LIBERAL idea.

What else does your sick mind think they're doing in that park? These "gangs of men"? Sitting around on chairs nattering, having sex + littering seems to be it. Anything else? Witch's covens? Paedophile rings?

From the comments the video's elicited, it also sounds like they are suffering homophobic attacks (which would be hardly surprising) but this of absolutely no consequence for Cllr. Mullaney. He doesn't even consider that he's giving bashers a guided tour.

Yes, we should all think about the consequences of our actions (not the least the Cllr.) but he sounds like a bloody Mormon! Yes, it's illegal but it's hardly smashing car windows and try measuring 'harm' here.

In his comments he comes across like he wants a War On Sex but it's really just old-fashioned NIMBYISM, he even owns up to that.

Did he ever think about trying to get the gay (and bi and straight) men using the park involved? Oh I forgot, all sex outdoors is ILLEGAL. Must be BANNED. BAN IT. BAN IT. I want the Daily Express vote and I want it NOW!

That this brings out the homophobes he blithely ignores, despite the endless comment accompanying this very video. He even ignores the worst HIV scaremongering. This is completely irresponsible.

The WORST is the stuff about 'and now you've got your rights and your pubs ...' He seems nothing but bewildered, as are many of the posters ('why do this when you people have pubs now?' Real Forty Acres and a Mule stuff ... )

Sorry but Nirvana hasn't arrived since we ain't equal yet - hadn't you noticed - and if you think discrimination isn't vast you are very ignorant indeed.

Councillor, take your patronising (look that up), heterosexist (look that one up too) crap and shove it.

And as for the gay people ready to shop their brothers for approval - for that's what it is ....

The only reason we have any rights at all is because some brave gay men took on the cops and the government when our existence was illegal — and some of them might be in that very park committing the extraordinary, call the dogs out, criminal act of having sex in the dark, in a bush. Think on.

In terms of online video, I find it quite scary. We know the BNP targets gay men, but this?

Outing's back: postscript

"I think of myself as phenomenally open," she says. "My children would say that, the people who know me would say that, the people who see me in the park would say that. Because when you have kids, you have to be open. Otherwise, what kind of message would that send? You can make a choice that brings them dignity or you can make a choice that's some hiding, shameful thing. I always choose dignity."
What about the other, lesbian kids with no role models, Jodie?

Michael Musto, my favourite gossip columnist, follows up on Out Magazine's Outing cover story (the one with with 'Jodie Foster' and 'Anderson Cooper').
By the way, I've been getting some light spanking myself for Out magazine's "glass closet" cover story about stars like ANDERSON COOPER and JODIE FOSTER who perform the delicate trick of living semi-out lives while not committing to being gay on the record.

In addition to praise, the story has incited the usual storms of outrage, and I honestly don't have the energy to fight the same old creatures who feel that saying a famous person is gay—even when he/she is hiding in plain sight—is a hateful, maligning abomination.

So I'll just link you to my Voice piece from two years ago countering the whinings about my last Out article on Cooper.

It's at

Then we can all go back to pretending we aren't interested in who anyone's fucking.

More Tesco

Had this response from Tesco to my final email:
I would like to assure you that I have recorded your views and will pass them on, together with any others we may receive, for the consideration of our Corporate department.

Thank you for bringing your further comments to our attention.
Does "together with any others we may receive" sound like an invitation?

Every little helps!

Here's your chance to do something — contact Tesco and tell them to start accepting Electron (they could do this TODAY).

Hearing the web

Excellent YouTube video very clearly demonstrates Screen Reader use.

This video shows the difference between a novice user who can only make use of basic functionality that screen readers offer and an advanced user who uses advanced functionality.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Public service bloggers

The Guardian carries a special edition of their Society section with interviews with public service bloggers.
  • The consideration missing behind closed doors
    As an ambulance worker, 'Tom Reynolds' regularly attends calls at care homes for older people. He finds abuse and neglect is more common than he expected.
    I recently put in a report about a doctor who prescribed a "teaspoon of salt in a cup of lemon juice, to be taken three times a day" to a 93-year-old woman. An ambulance officer will be visiting the GP and investigating this dangerous advice.
  • The doctor - knotty problem
    When the NHS can't cope with demand for even the most common treatments, having no private insurance can ruin livelihoods and lives, says 'Dr John Crippen'.
    The last time a patient of mine with back pain was seen by a nurse-specialist he was told to "take appropriate analgesia on a time-contingent basis". This is a fine example of "nurse speak". I refer to it often. I am not good at foreign languages, I do not speak "nurse". I think she meant for him to take two paracetamol every four hours.
  • Reality bytes - extracts from the blogosphere
    A mental nurse, the father of a son diagnosed with schizophrenia, an employee of a Scottish council and a doctor at an NHS hospital recount their experiences.
    I realised very quickly that working in a government office had nothing whatsoever to do with helping to achieve mission statements or teamwork, and, as far as the voting taxpayers were concerned, well, they could vote and they could pay their taxes. After that, we could forget all about them and get on with raking in some reasonable salaries and employee benefits.
  • The policeman - on the run
    Life for a bobby on the beat means pursuing the same criminals, chasing endless paperwork and trying to keep up with the government's latest targets and laws. Mary O'Hara meets the man behind the Policeman's Blog.
    Senior officers ... emailed me to say 'this is the kind of thing that happens'. I'm saying things that they think as well. They can't say it publicly, so I'm saying it.
  • Power of the secret policeman's blog
    It would be foolish of the establishment to think that the questions by the blogger about modern policing can be ignored, says Patrick Butler.
    The ease and cheapness with which online blogs can be created and maintained is rewriting these rules. With the freedom of anonymity, public servants and service-users now have a largely unmoderated platform on which to tell it "how it is", connecting easily to the public and each other outside authorised channels.
  • I had a dream of getting a book published
    'Wandering Scribe' blogs about being a homeless woman living in a car. But some people suspect her story is a publicity stunt. Alison Benjamin reports.

  • Do you want to talk about it?
    The web creates a new citizen - state dialogue, says Paul Hodgkin.
    A new language is struggling into existence - a way for citizen and state to communicate that moves beyond the adversarial and towards a more nuanced public discussion of the thousands of micro issues that arise in a complex and networked information society where voice has been democratised.