Now posts ↓

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Ahmadinejad: "We Don't Have Homosexuals Like In Your Country"

[Speaking at Columbia University today] Ahmadinejad was asked a question about gay executions in Iran, which he attempted to avoid by referring to the death penalty in the United States, ignoring the sexuality aspect of the question completely. Moderator Dean Coatsworth kept on him however, and received this answer:

Presumably his death squads are killing phantoms.

Saturday 22 September 2007

Usmanov · All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

usmanov cartoon- and the creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig again but already ..

From Matt Buck's Hack Cartoons

Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov sent one letter to Fasthosts, a Gloucester-based hosting company, alledging defamation and got Craig Murray's website taken down, and along with it a stack of others, including that of Tory Mayoral candidate Boris Johnson.

usmanovA friend of Putin, Usmanov has form in the UK, having demanded similar censorship from Arsenal Bulletin Boards and fan blogs (he's trying to buy the Football Club) and having made requests to Fasthosts to insert editorial changes to Murray's site previously.

His UK legal firm, the appropriately named Schillings, also has form. They are "the celebrity defamation firm par excellence", Keira Knightley and Britney Spears amongst their other, more attractive, clients. In this case, they have even threated under 'copyright' bloggers who've published their legal letters.murray

"As a former British Ambassador in Uzbekistan, I know a great deal more about Mr Usmanov, and especially about his criminal record, than he finds comfortable. The principal point at issue is that he has been able to take down one of the UK’s leading political websites without anything being tested in court. Fasthosts have pathetically repeated Schillings bluster that my site is 'Defamatory', as though that were established."
murder in samarkandIn fact, the supposedly defamatory 'allegations' were repeated from a book, Murder in Samarkand, by Murray published over a year ago and never challenged in court by Usmanov.

Usmanov, however, has been badly served by his lawyers. The heavy handed tactics and 'collateral damage' done to Johnson in particular has, in 48hrs, let loose a wave of support online for Murray from all across the political range.
"This is London, not Uzbekistan," Johnson said.

"It is unbelievable that a website can be wiped out on the say-so of some tycoon. We live in a world where internet communication is increasingly vital, and this is a serious erosion of free speech."
Plus, Murray's original posts are now mirrored across the world and easy to find.

David Warner
It appears Schillings has fallen victim to something our pals at Techdirt like to call "The Streisand Effect." streisand houseBack in 2003, Barbra Streisand sued a photographer in an attempt to remove an aerial photo of her California home from the Internet, despite the fact that the photo was part of a publicly funded coastline erosion study and wasn't even labeled as her home. As a result, photos of her house were published all over the web within days.

A similar situation happened last year to Diebold when internal memos discussing their easily hackable electronic voting machines were leaked to the web, and a group of students at Swarthmore College published the memos to the web. Diebold attempted to have the memos removed, claiming the students were committing copyright infringement. The company was successfully sued for issuing unlawful takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and forced to pay $125,000 in damages.

The Chaser's War on APEC · the stunt

Top effort blokes!

Friday 21 September 2007

Diller gives good ankle

Simpsons greenlighter Barry Diller, also college dropout and former William Morris Agency 'mailroom clerk', also Huffingtonpost supporter, gives a great interview to Portfolio:
The internet mogul speaks his mind on videogames, newspapers, and his own style of management.

[He's] managed over the last four decades to position himself at the forefront of whatever has been new in the popular culture.
I guffawed at one point when the very Ivy League looking interviewer, former gossip columnist Lloyd Grove, probing about the extent of Diller's stake in a Games start-up, said:
L.G.: I was going to ask you to show a little ankle on that.
This bit as well, probing about his 'management style':
... the president of Expedia [Dara Khosrowshahi] talking about how it’s generally people sitting around a table shouting at the top of their lungs.

B.D.: Well, he exaggerates ... But with almost every decision, particularly the ones that get tougher and tougher, you don’t have all the information; you’re never going to get all the information; it isn’t there to get. What you’ve got to try and do is listen for what truth you can hear out of the passions of people arguing what they believe in. Because it’s what they believe in when you don’t have the facts, where you can maybe find something that will give you a lead on what’s more interesting to do, what’s the right course to make a decision.
Talking about the Games start-up:
B.D.: The Xbox and the PlayStation—and of course they’re incompatible with each other. And they’re whiz-bang on graphics—they’re beautiful. But on both sides of it—on the equipment side of it that you have to purchase in on, the production side where you make a game—you’re spending huge amounts of money. The Web, as is proven in so many other areas, is a pretty good distribution mechanism for programming. And very few people have done really high-graphic Web games in a system that will have—in, which is a gathering place both for people who make the games and for viewers to get them—where there’s one easy-to-use, fast place to do pretty sophisticated games. So we think it’s a really original and good idea.
Grove probes him on whether he misses the Hollywood glamour:
L.G.: Some people wonder, just looking in from the outside, they would’ve thought that things like running a movie studio, starting a television network, being an enormous influence on what today is our culture, popular and otherwise, and being responsible for so many things that we just take for granted as part of our daily intake of entertainment, would be much more glamorous and exciting than selling shoes [as with]. Or being in the financial-services business [].

B.D.: Well that would be if you were after glamour. It’s not something I want to be after.... The brilliance of Shoebuy [is that] it is one of the first companies that found out to have a virtual inventory, meaning they have no inventory of their own, what they have figured out is how to get the inventory from hundreds of people who sell shoes in a way that one person can come and access all of it and then get instantly—find out instantly—whether that product is available and buy it instantly. And that’s fascinating to me. Each of the things that we do, we’ll find in there some different, new way of doing things. And that really has interested me since the moment that I kind of got involved in it 13 or 14 years ago. So to the people who say that isn’t making a movie and all of that—I ran movie companies for 20 years. If I wanted to repeat myself, it seems quite boring. It doesn’t seem glamorous to me, it seems repetitive.
LendingTree "will emerge very well" during the current US mortgages crisis, Diller says. But the website being down, small thing though that is, don't bode well. Diller is philosophical.

Talking about the future of newspapers (he's on the Washington Post board):
It’s hard when you use the word newspaper. If you mean news-gathering, or just news, take the paper off, then I’m very hopeful.

So the problem for print is print. I mean, it’s paper, it’s current distribution, and it’s going to be supplanted by other paths. So I’m optimistic about the paths but you certainly can’t be optimistic if you’re running a newspaper.

I think that the work that is done produces value, and it will produce value in the internet and in other forms.


Diller also likes very big yachts "I promise you, it’s not about size, it really isn’t" and is bisexual "[he] did not live as a monk before his marriage [to Diane von Furstenberg, designer and fellow former Studio 54 habitué] at the age of 59".

Wednesday 19 September 2007

'Twittering while holding Milan is just freaking awesome'

Tech pioneer Robert Scoble has just Twittered the birth of his son.

The moment, Twittered:
Hugh: I can't get a good link for Flickr for some reason. Hospital wifi is a bit flaky. Just visit my blog and click the Flickr feed there. 04:32 AM September 14, 2007 from twitterrific
Photos of Milan are up at N01/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"> 04:26 AM September 14, 2007 from twitterrific
Thank you so much to everyone for your kind wishes! Everyone is doing well. Milan is 9 lbs and was born at 2.24 p.m. today. 04:25 AM September 14, 2007 from web
Phoned-in TwitterGram 02:55 AM September 14, 2007 from TwitterGram
Milan is here! 02:30 AM September 14, 2007 from iTweet
Phoned-in TwitterGram 02:28 AM September 14, 2007 from TwitterGram
He notes:

Milan isn't the first baby to be blogged from this hospital [Stanford University], either. was born here


Silent Debate

God bless Harry Shearer.

Round I: Clinton V. Romney: "Kind of like all the debates we've had so far this year."

The video 'letter to the Editor'

Here's some history.

The New York Times had posted its first ever video Letter to the Editor.

The damning ten-minute letter responds to an op-ed penned by Paul Bremer III — former Iraq Viceroy — entitled "How I Didn't Dismantle Iraq's Army".

It's classy stuff but that's because it comes from filmmaker Charles Ferguson, and uses footage from his film, No End In Sight.

Said NYT Editorial Page editor Andrew Rosenthal:
"It is an amazing use of the Internet. This is what the Internet is all about."
I think the entry barrier's quite high by that standard! (not what the internet's all about) but it's very significant in breaking from text for one thing and adding immeasurably to the power of the Letter to the Editor. There's a discernible editorial choice in allowing the ten-minute long answer to Bremner to be the history maker and to be done in such a powerful way.

Also noticeable that the NYT doesn't have the vid-letter behind it's pay-wall - TimesSelect - as it's dropped the whole pay concept in its entirety; another significant event, headlined as Paid Newspaper Sites To Become Obsolete. This complete switch in strategy includes the archive.
Why is TimesSelect ending?
Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs, and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand, and the long-term vitality of our journalism.

We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion - as well as share it, link to it and comment on it. Our highest priority is to increase the reach and impact of our journalism online. The Times's Op-Ed and news columns are now available free of charge, along with Times File and News Tracker. In addition, The New York Times online Archive is now free back to 1987 for all of our readers.

All great. All sensible. Now I (and others) can catch up on Maureen Dowd's great columns.

Social Media's Impact On Mobile Marketing + PR

from Technology and Entertainment Video Network by Jennifer Jones
The mobile phone is the link in the movement from a networked society to a more connected one. What does this mean for mobile marketers? Jennifer Jones spoke with Chad Stoller, executive director of Organic, a digital marketing agency, to gain his perspective on current opportunities.

"Location-based services are the key"
"The biggest problem with GPS is people can't figure out where they are"
"We're 3-4 years behind Europe"

"Now your customers are giving it to you whether you like it or not"

Jeremiah Owyang interviews PR professional David Parmet at Miami's WeMedia conference at the University of Miami, in February, 2007. David writes Marketing Begins at Home. David's got some clients that embrace social media, such as English Cut, Stormhoek, and Scrapblog. He explains some of the things to look for when searching for a social media PR professional, and why some of the best consultants aren't afraid to give their clients "bad news."

Fight for kisses

Great, spooky online viral ad.

Google Docs in Plain English

Tuesday 18 September 2007

That's how they get you

... or try their hardest to. But:

Story about a group of Care home workers who started an online campaign about their pay.

Their bosses cried 'defamation' and because the default is 'take-down' when pressured with such talk, their ISP, 1&1, complied and took the site down.

Fortunately, the workers could call on a big stick - their union, UNISON - and got the ISP to reverse. This was after the workers website had been mirrored on overseas servers.

Defamation is a great tool for silencing people. You need lots of money or good, free legal to defend yourself against the rich and determined. ISPs have a business to run.

I notice that they used an Australian non-profit host (SocialChange).

A decade ago I did a website for an Aboriginal group which was trying to stop a sacred site being developed over. The developer's lawyers used defamation law extremely well (amongst other tactics, chiefly lying) to try to silence them. The site got chased from four hosts, around the world before I found another Aussie non-profit (GreenNet) who would take the risk.

Monday 17 September 2007

Pattison: "The whole privacy thing isn’t going to go away"

addicted2tv has an interesting interview with David Pattison, former President of the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising).

He talks about his career and the relationship of a 51 year-old with Social networking. Pattison's asked about all the developments pointing towards increased policing of the net, or the division of the Net:

Yes, its on its way, but its hard to see how you can do it without it being so severe that it limits the upside, I think its such a shame but of course one persons censorship is another persons freedom.

Who is going to be the judge and whose going to set the level? If you leave it to the authorities its all about lowest common denominator stuff. That usually means that context is ignored. It’s going to come, but its not going to come in a good way.

One of the things that became clear at the IPA is that the lobby groups are very well funded. Probably more so than the group defending the issue.

There is also the whole area of who is right. So if you take an issue such as ‘advertising junk food to children’, your view on junk food versus my view on junk food is probably different and that’s just two people. Put four people in and you’ve got four different views, in order to police it most times the solution resorts to lowest common denominator. Everyone suffers.

He thinks that "The whole privacy thing isn’t going to go away".

Most of the issues about the Internet moving forward are about privacy, about limitation of use rather than extension of use.

The Social networking comments are funny:

Im quite a private person and I think there’s an element about blogging that is about therapy and showing off. I don’t feel the need to do any of those things. If I want to talk to someone I tend to use a thing called ‘mouth mail’. I am not dismissive of social networking, its just that I am 51 years old and all of these things are generational. I use the computer loads, email, searching, online shopping, use it all of the time, the whole social networking thing is something I've just not got into. But I do understand the importance of it, to a company like ours its absolutely fundamental to what we do.

Owh, sarcastic. Not that Mr Ad Man would know anything about 'showing off ... '

Sunday 16 September 2007

Joan Rivers joins 'the bloggers'

Too, too funny ...

From her blog:

My doctor told me blogging was what happened after eating too many bananas. But blogging is so much more — it’s sitting alone in a dark room, eating raw cookie dough out of the package while my dogs lick my bare feet, and wondering where my life has gone. Melissa, my daughter, love her to death, but the bitch never calls unless I threaten to update my will.

... these videos and podcasts, much like Senator Larry Craig in an airport bathroom, will be coming at you hard and fast all day on Sunday.

... since this is the internet, and since most celebrities can barely read much less use a computer, I can finally get to say all the dirty and disgusting thoughts that those old-fashioned TV networks never let me get away with. As the evening wears on, Melissa and I will also be appearing in something called “Podcasts,” which I’m praying is some type of body-transplant surgery.



Who knew Al Gore owns a TV Station? So far he’s got an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and now he’s going for a Tony. He’s doing a musical on President Bush called The Lyin’ King.

What’s Al Gore’s speaking fee? Something tells me it’s $All You Can Eat. He’s probably wondering if his Emmy is made out of chocolate. He didn’t learn after breaking all his teeth on his Oscar!

Internet People!

Dan Meth's v. cute run through of the last few years of Internet hits.

Saturday 15 September 2007

World's Worst Polluted Places 2007

View Larger Map

The Top Ten (in red) of the Dirty Thirty (in purple) as determined by the Blacksmith Institute.


NB: This was easily done from new 'Link to this page' Google Maps option, but the site didn't suggest it.

Why is the UK press ignoring Bebo?

NMA today:
[UK owned] Bebo has overtaken search giant Google as the most viewed web site in the UK, according to new research [ComScore] out today.

The news comes in the same week that Bebo signed a deal with Yahoo! that will see the internet giant sell advertising for the social network, integrate Yahoo! answers within its platform and develop a Bebo-branded browser toolbar.

Here's Bebo Vs MySpace in UK Google Search traffic Vs. UK Press coverage (Google Trends):

The thin blue line at the bottom is Bebo's UK Press coverage.

One can speculate why this is the case but it's so huge that it's rather an indictmentof UK Press coverage of the Web in general.

"Fat and Dumb"

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Usability myths and professionals discussion

More discussion on Alastair Campbell (no, not that one, the other one) of Nomensa's blog about 'Usability myths and professionals'.

Alastair had responded to comments I made about their advice to government web workers (they're at the end of my original long post).

I think Discount Testing is do-able, Alastair has lots of concerns - I think that sums up one disagreement.

We're also disagreeing about the value or otherwise of guidance and 'myths'.

Here's a couple of things I wrote:
[Discount testing]: We are not disagreeing, what I’m saying is that Usability is a movement, a general aim which everyone has to buy-into — that’s the goal. Out of that comes budgets, attitude-changes and far better customer service.

[Usability professionals should prod government]: The UK - for one thing - is doing well in some areas. We do have a lot of good work. But just like Bebo being ignored over MySpace don’t you think our political leaders are rather letting the side down if they aren’t prepared to engage with industry on something as fundamental as the usability of their products? And stop spinning the failures and talk up the real successes?

Dancing Hitler lives!

I love the tone of this headline from Techmeme:
Greg Sandoval /
FIRST PRINCE, NOW VILLAGE PEOPLE TARGET YOUTUBE — Somebody combined the Village People's hit song, "YMCA," with footage of a dancing Adolf Hitler and posted the clip to YouTube. Now the company that owns the rights to the band's music is preparing to sue YouTube.
I met the Village People in Sydney once. Very bored /boring people ...

YouTube is a platform and the U.S. Constitution (free speech and all that) bars the sort of censorship being called for (particularly by daft UK pollies). Lots of sound and fury signifying nothing (except problems for others, like police deprived of their evidence).

Everywhere around the Google empire people are yelling about a lack of customer service - it's the same here, more people needed to 'take-down' quicker, 'why aren't these rich 'don't be evil' people employing them faster?'. Which is bad news for Google and sounds just like what happened to Microsoft.

But I can't help thinking it won't be long before technology exists to pre-screen soundtracks and auto-bar videos with copyright tracks on them.

Which may suck but then someone will come back with a way to get around that.

I'm sorry but I guffawed when I read this about the dancing Hitler:
Each time the video is pulled, someone else uploads another copy
Now you can't kill either the message or the messenger. Satire sure is powerful ...

Blogs By Googlers

acutely obtuse · Alexander Limi · Beyond Satire · Bikin' my Bloggin' · Bladam 2.0 · Bolinfest Changeblog · Catspaw's Guide to the Inevitably Insane · Chris Sacca's What Is Left? · Christian Pezzin · Confessions of a Digital Packrat · Continuations · Donal Mountain's notes · Dr. Razavi's Good-to-Know-Info · Ego Food · Erica's Joys · · Gayle Laakman · Grokster · iBanjo · It Has Come to My Attention · Joe Beda Eighty · Kimbalina · Kraneland · Lorem Ipsum · Marked for Dearth · Massless · Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google and SEO · Nanaze · Otaku · Ovidiu Predescu's Weblog · P@ Log · · Peter Fleischer: Privacy? · Piaw's Blog · Rahrah feminista · Reza Behforooz · Shellen dot com · · · So Many Games · Sowbug · Stevey's Blog Rants · Technical Revenue · The Other Eighty Percent · Vedana · Whistle Dance .net · Xenomachina · Zovirl Industries

Friday 14 September 2007

AdBlock: "not evil"

nicholas carr
The always interesting blogger, author and commentator Nicholas Carr has a thing about AdBlock - that's a little plug-in or add-on which around 1-2% of users have installed - to the point that he just asked the question
If that sounds OTT that's because it is .

As I explained before, there is no way that AdBlock, the effort of one geek in Germany, not the Russian mafia, is ever going to seriously challenge ecommerce.

AdBlock somehow representing armageddon for ecommerce, if not capitalism in general, is what Nicholas and most others on this subject have been carrying on about.

And here's why they all need a bex and a good lie down:

broadway world with ads

This is the faaaabulous Broadway World website trying to flog me Xanadu tickets, finding it's own way around my AdBlock, which is the red circle in the bottom right of the screengrab.

Haaretz and others get some ads round my default AdBlock set-up as well.

xanadu banner
(Xanadu? Is this some sort of off-beam behavioural targetting? I Haaaate Xanadu, brings back bad memories .. :{ )

bex tabletsSeveral industry commentators have written that AdBlock is evil.

Some are arguing that Firefox users be actively blocked, (which just sparks another add-on arms race).

Carr is right on one thing though, that a paid commentator should see the Web the same way as the poor sods who don't use AdBlock. I won't spoil his post by telling you his answer to 'Jesus's' conundrum ...


Postscript: here's Google getting around AdBlock on JackP's blog:

And a comment made me investigate my filters in AdBlock and - ahah! - there is indeed a 'Dr Evil' involved in this conspiracy against capitalism!
[Adblock Plus 0.7.1]

! Filterliste von Dr. Evil & MonztA (mit Hilfe der Foren-Nutzer auf
! Zuletzt geändert: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 19:06:37 +0200 wird alle 4 Tage aktualisiert (expires after 4 days).
! Kommentare (verbleibende Werbung, fälschlicherweise blockierte Inhalte, Danksagungen ;-), ...)

! bitte per Mail an oder auf an uns richten

I come back to The Pickards after clicking 'add filter' a few times and - voila! - Jack's Ads disappear :{ Even when I disable AdBlock on Jack's site :@ It must be learning !? Only when AdBlock's entirely disabled do Jack's Ads reappear :~


Thursday 13 September 2007

Hail to the chimp!


One other good thing about this new template is that I can pop The Chimp-o-Matic back ... I just looove those Bushisms (doesn't everyone).

Bottom of the sidebar.

Office 2007 apparently crap for blind people

office 2007 box
Just emailed a friend a post by the fabulous Leonie Watson on E-Access Blog.

Leonie's blind and is no fan, no way, of Microsoft Office 2007.

Hates it. Dreads it.

Office 2007 - Interface Design Revolution?
Office 2007. Revolution in usability? Innovation in interface design? Hell no, not if you're a screen reader user at least.

I installed Office 2007 at home recently. Fully ready to embrace the next evolution in interface design, I thought I'd take things easy. A little light emailing, perhaps some gentle word processing. I mean, how difficult could it be? I've been through several different versions of Office, surely a few changes to the interface can't be a problem?

Several hours later, an exhausted supply of curse words and a lifetime's supply of patience behind me, I uninstalled it. Never, I vowed, would it darken my desktop again.

From how Leonie relates the issues - auto-actions like menus 'thinking' and hence changing order - they sound so very obvious that I ended up thinking 'either they never tested Office 2007 with screen readers or they ignored the results'?

Now how does a big corp like Microsoft get away with that?

New blog style musings

Designing/the creative impulse -- I've been tweaking around in the right hand column but, after a while, you reach a point (madness?) of no return and so ...

... I picked a new template entirely ('Snapshot') — Big plunge but hey ho ...

Doing it was a slightly naff experience as Blogger gives you 'preview' but in an unresizable window :/

And it does look different in reality.

Why - Apart from boredom, I became aware that the content width was too wide, twenty or more words across is harder to read. For me.

So this is easier to read but then there's the scrolling ... I think this still might be that bit too narrow, so may change that but my first attempt didnae work and my brain hurts. The actual Snapshot template needed changing as it's quite pink (not moi style).

The sidebar location also 'scans' better, it's less the 'lead' (in).

Also, new content column only just about holds default size YouTube videos but not MySpace ones (had to do a fix to get the Chasers one vaguely right) - but then Rupert M*****h's space is rather GLARING and BIG and LACKING in OPTIONS ...

Plus it's taking me a while to figure out how I've lost bolding in body text (in FF). Ideas?

But a quick squizz around the archives, old posts look OK except the odd table but nothing life threatening.

I think!

All good fun :/

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Google loses it and other musings

I've posted before about removing widgets because the servers serving them were too slow - and holding up other content. Well add to this the widget being reprogrammed with no warning and disappearing.

That's what Google just did with Reader. Changed something so one aspect of the service disappeared, in this case my 'what I'm reading' widget - vanished. Fortunately, I spotted it because someone else did and alerted me, I thought to check whether I could redo it and I could.

Crap customer service from Google - adding to the accumulating bad image they have in that regard - as sending me an email alerting me to it changing is dead, dead simple. Automatable, even.

Because I figure it's a one off (hah!) I did a bit more and withered my feeds and put them through the Reader widget.

Availability is very important! Google Maps is a real alternative to expensive alternatives not just because it's free but also because it's available, it's reliable. MS Live Local isn't, it's slow. Haven't experimented with Yahoo Maps yet but I prefer their interface and they're fast, so there is a Google alternative.

I also removed the Technorati 'tag cloud' widget because it wasn't picking up my tagging — Blogger has 'labels' rather than tags, the cause I believe. You clicked 'environment' and it gave no results. I haven't seen an easy to use 'tag cloud' widget yet (I may now go look, they're the best way to organise content :).

I really dislike how Technorati's changed and I haven't seen much development in areas like widgets with them for a long while (Read/Write Web has more about Technorati's woes).

Blogger does seem some way behind WordPress, which appears to be the cogniscienti choice, having used that elsewhere and seen what else it provides I see why. I just find myself defaulting to Google products because it's easier and quicker and the negatives aren't crucial.

Pegah Emambakhsh released

News today that Pegah Emambakhsh - the Iranian lesbian threatened by my government with deportation to torture and possible death - has been released from Yarls Wood Detention Centre.

The Friends of Pegah Campaign in Sheffield said last night:
The Court of Appeal have also agreed to hear her case. It will be listed within the next couple of weeks and will be heard sometime in the next few months, we believe.

There are also other actions that we know are being taken on her behalf, by influential organisations at a high level in the UK.

We really don't think that we would have got this far without the fantastic work you have put in supporting Pegah. She is truly grateful and gives her heartfelt thanks to you all - as do we. It is impossible to overstate the value of your support.

This does not mean that Pegah is out of the woods but she is now in a much more hopeful position.

As you will understand Pegah needs time to recover from the ordeal of the past few weeks. She also needs to get back in touch with the ordinary business of living her life in some peace and tranquility.
It is very sad but true that if the international gay community and refugee supporters in Sheffield hadn't lobbied and embarrassed embassy officials and roped in foreign politicians that woman would be back in a Tehran jail having electrodes applied to her followed by rape followed by the noose. That's what Britain would have done and it's shameful.

It is worth noting that despite a lot of coverage in the gay and Italian and other international media of the case, only The Guardian - with a single story reporting the storm of support for Pegah in Italy - and the Sheffield local paper has reported about Pegah.

Monday 10 September 2007

Postscript: More birth pangs of government 2.0

man wearing eyetracking goggles
In a long post on his blog titled 'Usability myths and professionals' Alastair Campbell (no, not that one, the other one) of Nomensa has responded to comments I made about their advice to government web workers (they're at the end of my original long post).

Says Andrew:
A recent post by a local authority web officer was fairly frustrating for me, as it perpetuates several myths in usability, as well as calling into question my motives.
That's right. I questioned that every help route seemed to end up back at a professional, aka 'pay-me'! Andrew's response only confirmed this for me! More about the 'myths' follows.

Nomensa were contracted in 2006 by the DCLG (Department for Communities + Local Government), which ran the government portal DirectGov and the centralised LocalDirectgov programme Someone in Whitehall had finally realised that there was no usability advice so - for a while - Nomensa provided CDs, online usability guidance and a helpdesk, which was used but not that much.

Andrew notes that eGov critic, the publication Public Sector Forums, had "almost nothing but good words" to say about their work at the time. But he then thinks because I've posted on their forum that I'm a 'member', so he's surprised that I'm "now taking umbrage". Er, I don't represent PSF, neither do the other hundreds of 'members'. I disagree with them quite often, actually.

For the record, I'm not taking umbrage at the advice in total. Having it was useful, but it was late. Looking at it again now I'm sure it would need changes. It did seem extremely targeted - so not always useful, not obviously - but there were good reasons for that. All of which are now irrelevant because it's been moved, relinked to and parked - not added to or promoted. This appears to be it on usability advice/leadership from Whitehall.

Andrew claims authorship of a quote which I used, actually from the guidance FAQ:
No usability guideline is black and white, and the context and users have to be taken into consideration.
This is what I said about that:
Whoever wrote this has a vested interest, pushing their expertise— are they really saying that someone like Jakob Nielsen doesn’t make basic, apply to all, guidance? That ordinary web workers have nothing to learn from Nielsen or any of the others in my links list? That only filtered and packaged government-approved usability guidance is kosher?
Noting that they did have links in their guidance (after prodding to, from my recollection), Andrew:
No, not where people are involved.
Jakob Nielsen has done much to publicize usability, but you do have to take care when things are simplified too much, or assumed to be sacred. For example, he used to say people wouldn’t scroll (mistake 6), but this isn’t the case anymore (e.g. 22% scroll to the bottom in this sample, and most scrolled to some degree).
jakob nielsen"Much" — I can't think of anyone bar maybe Steve Krug who's done more? "Used to" — exactly, he's changed his advice over the years in some respects. Most recently and most famously on providing the actual (negative) results on banner ads. But on scrolling with a very quick Google I find him saying in 1997:
Scrolling Now Allowed
In early studies, I found that only 10% of Web users would scroll a navigation page to see any links that were not visible in the initial display. The vast majority of users would make their selection from those links they could see without scrolling. In retrospect, I believe this was due to people treating a set of Web options like they would treat a dialog box: You always design dialog boxes so that all choices are visible ...
In 2002:
Users hate scrolling left to right. Vertical scrolling seems to be okay, maybe because it's much more common.
It's obvious that scrolling behaviour has changed. Driven, I think, largely by Google. Obviously Jakob's advice has changed as he's observed changing behaviour.

What I think Jakob does especially well, particularly when he's being an evangelist, is remind people that for many if not most users, the Web is hard. Lots and lots of users do fail tasks all the time. i.e. not everybody scrolls. Loudly saying this, reminding web people, makes him a curmudgeon for many (you fellow professionals have your own issues with him I guess).
In any case you are dealing with percentages, statistics, and optimising. Not clear guidelines that work for all, which is what I was trying to suggest.
What about heuristics?! I know from fieldwork that starting from basic heuristic points works with giving people basic rules. 'Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors' is guidance that's always there, or should be.
Any usability finding has to be in the context of who, when and what. It’s actually in the definition of usability (emphasis mine):
the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
Of course, but that's not what Discount Methods are about. They are about a way that you can spot woods from trees in a very particular context.

us census website snapshot red textNielsen just posted about how they'd spent gawd knows how much testing a US Census website. They wanted people to find the US Population number. Despite it staring them in the face on the homepage, simply because it was in red, no one saw it. Literally no one.

Do you not think a quick whizz round the vicinity of the US Census HQ using discount methods might have saved them some money for the same result?

I had a very similar experience recently with a website, actually with an element - a very important element - in that very position. If we hadn't discount tested, we might have missed it.

Discount testing does its straightforward job. A very important job that is transformative in a way that just following guidance can't match. That's all.

Many sites would benefit from quick internal usability testing at various stages of the process, that is only to be encouraged. But you do run the risk of finding out what you want to hear, or using the wrong tool for the job. Again, it depends. If people are asking for general guidelines to use, it’s a good indicator that help is needed with the methodology.
And that's a bad thing? The only way to try to avoid "finding out what you want to hear, or using the wrong tool for the job" is by following some advice on how to do it and to externally test it. If you're after woods/trees and not trying to do much more. You seem to suggest that finding common errors either isn't consistently possible or is bound to be heavily discounted by bad methods. How do you know this?

What I would say is that personality and things like experience of dealing with the public for testers are key areas to nail down in such advice. I'm reluctant to provide scripts but I can see how that would help.

This is an area from my experience that needs work. particularly because there's one huge benefit from discount testing - meeting the general public, the customers. (And another - answering internal forces, such as those who propose unusable web elements.)

In a presentation I gave last year I have a section about when you need a professional (I suggest, for one, at the very beginning of the process. The real aim should be that any final testing confirms and adds minor tweaks. Unfortunately, as you'd know, this is when many people start).

woods/treesFact is, only the biggest, wealthiest websites can afford much use of professionals. So people need to know when they need them, what to prioritise. They need methods to test, not just run against guidance, for all the rest of the time, when there isn't a budget for professionals (or when they've devoted a chunk to accessibility).

Simply spotting woods from trees would do everyone enormous good and - as you agree - should be encouraged. But how? You're not doing it, are you? Who is apart from Jakob? You do appear at least to have a vested interest in not doing this.
Anyone can claim to be a usability expert, just like anyone can set up a web site. But like web development, there is a need for professionals.
I don't claim to be a usability expert, never have. But you come across that your advice is that you always need professionals. That any ideas you - lowly web worker, developer, whatever - might have about usability are ridiculous, naff, prone to error and - well - just forget it. And that's - natch - disempowering, doesn't advance the cause of usability and ultimately doesn't benefit customers.

So. to be positive, why don't you write discount testing advice (there was none in the LocalDirectgov work)? Plus better advice on when you need a professional and what you can do yourself? You are the expert after all.

Sunday 9 September 2007

The Chaser's War On APEC

According to the BBC, Over The Top security such as enormous 'Secure zones' for the APEC conference have left a "bitter taste in Sydney", which I can well believe.

Hence the security's easy breaching by a bunch of Aussie comedians, one dressed as Osama Bin Laden, have made them folk heroes.

Despite a crackdown estimated to have cost as much as A$250 million - more than for the whole Olympics - the team from ABC TV Comedy show Chaser's War On Everything were able to make it within 10m of the InterContinental Hotel where George W Bush was staying.

The skit had been approved by ABC lawyers but was written in the assumption they would be stopped at the checkpoint on the corner of Bent and Macquarie streets (in the centre of Sydney's CBD).

Instead they were waved through the first checkpoint on Macquarie St and then a second which had sniffer dogs. They eventually stopped themselves at Bridge St.

The video, posted on their Myspace page (Male, 88yo, Sydney), shows their fake Canadian motorcade being waved through police checkpoints on the edges of the APEC security zone in central Sydney.

It also shows a police officer taking two polaroid photos of the crew on the scene after they were detained.

Here's Channel Nine's coverage:

The fake motorcade had been staged as part of an APEC-stunt week, which included using fake 'APEC Security' badges and stopping random members of the public and frisking them - everyone complies.

The following day the serial pranksters were at it again, with three members of the team marching a black cardboard motorcade with Canadian flags down Bligh St in the city, just a block away from where police mistakenly waved through their first mock motorcade.

William Gibson: Humanity's curatorial moment

Washington Post interview with William Gibson, inventor of 'cyberspace'. The author's new book, "Spook Country," is set in a shadowy, uncertain 2006 -- a time, he suggests, as strange as the future he created in his bestseller "Neuromancer."
"One of the things I've been doing in the eBay era -- I've become a really keen observer of the rationalization of the world's attic. Every class of human artifact is being sorted and rationalized by this economically driven machine that constantly turns it over and brings it to a higher level of searchability. . . . The tentacles of that operation extend into every flea market and thrift shop and basement and attic in the world. . . .

"Every hair is being numbered -- eBay has every grain of sand. EBay is serving this very, very powerful function which nobody ever intended for it. EBay in the hands of humanity is sorting every last Dick Tracy wrist radio cereal premium sticker that ever existed. It's like some sort of vast unconscious curatorial movement.

"Every toy I had as a child that haunted me, I've been able to see on eBay. The soft squeezy rubber frog with red shorts that made 'eek eek' noise until that part fell out. I found Froggy after some effort on eBay, and I found out that Froggy was made in 1948 and where he was made and what he was made of. I saw his box, which I'd long forgotten. I didn't have to buy Froggy, but I saved the jpegs. So I've got Froggy in my computer.

"This is new. People in really small towns can become world-class connoisseurs of something via eBay and Google. This didn't used to be possible. If you are sufficiently obsessive and diligent, you can be a little kid in some town in the backwoods of Tennessee and the world's premier info-monster about some tiny obscure area of stuff. That used to require a city. It no longer does."

Don Tapscott on Newsnight

: BBC have added the report/interview to Newsnight video highlights.


Unambiguously positive lead in by Paul Mason on Newsnight to an interview with Don Tapscott about Wikinomics. What a great communicator:
We talk to the author of a new book called 'Wikinomics' who says we've barely begun to see how the internet will effect the way we live and work. Social networking is passé and will be replaced by collaboration in which individuals will be given the opportunity to become the professionals - leading to greater innovation and changing the way business and scientific problems can be solved. Is this a cheap way for businesses to carry out research or are we entering a new era in which the power of the consumer is on a more equal footing with big business?

  • Newsnight blog with extract and comment
  • Saturday 8 September 2007

    Ming delegates his 'poking'


    We have just asked Sir Menzies Campbell when he last poked someone. The face of the Liberal Democrat leader registers utter astonishment, a flush of alarm then a hint of anger. Poking is, we hurriedly assure him, a technical term, from Facebook, which he was the first party leader to sign up to.

    “Ah. I was encouraged to do that . . . I’ve got someone who monitors it for me because there are quite a lot of other things going on,” he says.

    The Shock Doctrine by Alfonso Cuarón and Naomi Klein

    nb: contains strong images.