Gonna be offline for a bit

My laptop died last night – it had been suffering from overheating recently, and either the overheating killed something on the motherboard, or the i8kfan application I was running to override the BIOS’s fan settings corrupted the BIOS. Either way, it’s a bit shagged and refuses to start up. A little bit of me wants to repair it, but the cost of spares (new motherboard, and it needs a new battery as well) and the fact it’s two years old means I’ll probably just buy a new one. With one thing or another keeping me busy, it will probably be a bit of time before I’m fully equipped with a new computer again…

The future of mainstream media

Armand writes about his chat with Wired’s Chris “Long Tail” Anderson about the potential decline of traditional media in the face of proliferation of mass participatory media (blogs, wikis etc.), and he asked me to give my opinion…

First of all, it is necessary to more finely define the term “traditional media”; a distinction needs to be made between traditional formats and distribution (i.e. paper, fixed-schedule television) and traditional philosophies of organisation (centralised, top-down, push). The first implies the latter, but the latter philosophy can be delivered online – i.e. the so-called “Web 1.0”; this is what Wired, The Guardian and virtually every other website provided by the mainstream media currently model themselves on.

Chris Anderson says traditional media should “embrace” RSS and the blog as technological solutions, but plenty have already; this isn’t necessarily meaning they are going to get all Web 2.0 on us. Case in point – the much-vaunted Guardian’s Comment Is Free has the look and feel of a blog, and employs tagging, but still reflects a highly centralised service. The main contributors are by and large established journalists; readers’ responses are submitted and collated on the page itself in an unthreaded and disparate manner. Other blogs are left out of the picture; there are no links to Technorati or a Trackback link advertised, which means those of us who would rather respond and publish on our own blogs or linklogs are left out. As for tagging, it can only be performed by the publisher, not by the larger pool of subscribers: it is this mass-participatory nature which makes sites like Flickr and del.icio.us turn tags from just another <meta> into something actually, y’know, useful.

So despite adopting blogging technologies and techniques, Comment Is Free is still highly centralised, which results in little variety, a narrow range of ideas and little that helps the consumer in the way of useful metadata or finding out related items (which as I understand it, are necessary for a successful “Long Tail” to come about). Merely adopting technologies is not enough to bring about a change in attitudes towards how media are produced and consumed. I’ve focused on the Comment Is Free site but the same could be said for nearly all the mainstream media’s attempts at blogging or tagging, at least in the UK (e.g. Nick Robinson‘s blog, or Boris Johnson‘s).

As they stand, some mainstream media outlets have kinda bought into Web 2.0-style formats and mechanisms, but still haven’t quite caught the boat; though as Chris Anderson points out in Armand’s post, there are honourable exceptions, such the stuff the BBC’s research labs are coming out with, such as their recent reboot competition and the Creative Archive. But then again, as Armand points out, the BBC’s revenue stream is very different to any other media organisation’s.

As it’s clear that most mainstream companies are not whole-heartedly going down the Web 2.0 route, will they be overtaken by blogs? I don’t think so, at least not at the rate suggested. Blogs and other mass-particpatory media depend on traditional media much more than they like to let on; the primary source of news which gets commented upon and dissected by many blogs are Big Media such as the BBC, CNN, Wired etc.; plenty of what gets sent to Digg or Slashdot are press releases or news stories on mainstream sites; YouTube is dominated by adverts or clips of TV shows; MySpace (Murdoch-owned, remember) is now the target of sustained marketing by record companies (so much so I’m surprised it hasn’t jumped the shark yet).

This is not to say the social media are nothing, of course; there’s plenty of original, interesting new content out there, especially in media to do with the tech sector, or in cult television, film, art and music; aside – perhaps this is why geeks have tendency to see a revolution happening, as it is primarily in their own back yard? But if those participating in mass-participatory media (who are still a minority, albeit a vociferous one) continue to use the mainstream media as a major source of news, entertainment and education, then it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the population.

So, the mainstream media still have an important role to play; there is not going to be any sort of Schumpeterian orgy of destruction, at least not in as short (in history of technology terms) a span as 10-15 years as Chris Anderson predicts. Mass-particpatory media has only gained a small foothold and much of the mainstream media’s interaction has been more cosmetic than desirable. Am I being pessimistic? I don’t think so, I think and hope that mainstream media can still change; the people behind Web 2.0 are tech-savvy, very dynamic and have plenty of disposable income, which makes them highly desirable market from the mainstream’s point of view. But there’s a battle to be won, one which needs to be more evangelising and less soothsaying, if Web 2.0 is going to co-opt and transform Big Media, rather than the other way round.

A year on

This time a year ago I was in Edinburgh University Library, watching the news pour in from London, my home city. The BBC had some months earlier run a programme called Crisis Command where celebrities were put in a fictitious “you are in control of the country while terrorists are attacking London” scenario, and there was touch of familiar unreality about the whole event; in some ways the incoming pictures looked just like the fictitious game; often, it can be quite hard to appreciate how news (and news television in particular) is crafted and framed just like any piece of fiction, until the most horrible of events happens somewhere you happen to know intimately well. Places familiar to me – Aldgate, King’s Cross, Edgware Road – now looked like they were being used as a movie set. Agitating me further were the unconfirmed reports (and ultimately proven false) reports of eight or nine buses exploding, or a suicide bomber being shot dead near Canary Wharf – anyone remember that?

I imagine many of the rest of us fortunate enough to not be caught up in the horror of that day were similarly bewildered and confused. And yet a year on, much of the confusion remains; many questions remain, not just of the emergency service response that day but also about the bombers themselves and the intelligence services’ role. At the same time, the recommendations of commissions and working groups set up after July 7 to rebuild community links with British Muslims and combat alienation and radicalisation have been steadfastly ignored by the government. It is clear that the government is unwilling to confront either the events of that day, or the wider problems that created the climate extremism thrives on.

When honouring those who were killed and maimed a year ago, please consider that many questions remain unanswered and many lessons are still to be learnt. The ever-steadfast Rachel North has made clear her call for a full public inquiry into July 7th. Please read her post, and the links provided. You can also sign the petition calling for a public inquiry. Additionally, write to your MP (particularly if your MP is Labour), asking them to back the call for an inquiry, and to lobby the government to do more on tackling the causes of extremism and reducing alienation. The current climate of fear and suspicion is not a safe one, nor is it sustainable; we should all do a little bit in getting the government to change it.

The shorter Tony Blair

What Tony really means when he says this:

“Look, y’know, I know I sent troops into Iraq; my government drafted dozens of anti-terror laws that have led to hundreds of Muslims being arrested for no good reason. I’ve failed to do anything substantial to alleviate poverty or segregation, or increase opportunities in places like Bradford, Birmingham and Stepney. And I know that lately the police have taken to shooting innocent Muslims, or even innocent Brazilians, if they think they’re Muslims. What’s the solution? Well, it’s clear who’s responsible for repairing the fractured community relations and reducing the widespread disaffection amongst British Muslims. Yes, community leaders. You. That’s your job. I’ve done mine. Now it’s time to do your bit to clean up the mess that I made.”

They were crap

Well, I told you so. Sven’s England, who had been anywhere from middling to dreadful during this World Cup, managed to escape criticism by that old chestnut – the “go down to ten men from a dubious decisison, go down fighting, fuck up the penalties” routine. It worked before, it will work again. Attention will be shifted away from the terrible, terrible, World Cup that England played and onto the outside factors; England yet again victims of circumstance and vendetta, rather than their own shortcomings.

It’s easy to blame an over-zealous Argie ref, but it would be a marvellous piece of self-deception to blame him. Rooney lashed out with a stamp not only because he has severe anger management issues, but because he was totally isolated up front and made to run for everything; Carvalho and Meira were able to double up on him and rattle and irk him at their pleasure.

It’s also far too easy to praise “the lads” for a “backs to the wall” ten man performance, when truth be told, a lot of them were lightweights: Lampard had a despicably bad game, terrible even by the appallingly low standard he has set for himself this World Cup. Gerrard wore himself out too soon, and though he was off by the time of Rooney’s card, Beckham had a very poor game. Only Hargreaves comes out with any sort of credit, not only for an excellent and tireless performance in central midfield, but for taking the game to the Portuguese on the left wing, after Eriksson had inexplicably taken off Joe Cole (the only player capable of delivering crosses) for Peter Crouch (the only forward capable of heading them in).

Quarter-final defeat on penalties looks OK but it totally belies the fact England were crap all tournament; England struggled to impose themselves in what was one of the weakest groups in the tournament, and had the relatively harmless non-threat of Ecuador to overcome to get that far. Against an ageing Portuguese side with its best player missing and there for the taking, England totally failed to take the game to the opposition, barely creating a single chance inside the box, until they were down to ten men, when it was far more punishing to do so. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Eriksson must be a relieved man. He doesn’t have to explain why he continued to play Beckham, who was inconsistent and often ineffectual. The criticism of why he only took three strikers to the World Cup, when two of them were unfit and the other hardly a goal machine at club level, will remain unanswered. He doesn’t have to defend his questionable midfield formation, or why he didn’t drop or at least restrain the woeful, selfish Lampard, whose insistence on repeatedly dashing into the box and shooting over the bar totally disrupted England’s attacking play throughout the tournament. As for why he called up Walcott, then never played him, or brought on a right-back who doesn’t take penalties to take a penalty, we’ll never know (unless there’s that book deal in the pipeline).

And that’s not just because he’s buggering off back to Sweden with a fat paycheck, but because no-one will ask these questions. Despite the hype and Rooney-mania, England were ultimately disappointing, from start to finish. They totally failed to live up to expectation, and were in all honesty lucky to get as far as the quarter-finals. Of course, England have no divine right to victory, and even if the players had played at their best, I doubt they would have won it. But even by the standards of a middling football power, they still underperformed badly and it was almost humiliating to watch such inept displays.

The English, as they are wont to do, will try to find excuses (honestly, you’d think hot weather in summer had only just been invented the way commentators bang on about it), rewrite history with clich? (any sort of ten-man performance by England is automatically described as “brave”) or apportion the blame elsewhere (how long before that Argentine ref gets Urs Meier-style death threats?) the real failures in this case were the players and the coach. They were crap. End of story. Don’t let anyone else fool you.