Tuesday, 30 June 2009

China Struggles To Nail Down Virtual Cash

Last August, I expressed some doubt that QQ coins represented the future of money for various reasons. Now Finextra reports that on Saturday the Chinese government banned the use of virtual currency, including the dominant QQ coins, to purchase real world goods and services, as well as the use of virtual money for gambling. Its use is now restricted to buying goods and services supplied by the issuer. It seems to be the second ban in this vein, according to Digital Money Forum, the previous one relating to the purchase of real world property and virtual currency trading. Whether this second attempt will rein in the misuse of Chinese virtual cash remains to be seen.

At least the Chinese government has not banned the use of stored value products altogether. Given China's authoritarian stance in some areas, that should be a good sign for the future of e-money.

Posted via email from Pragmatist's Posterous

Unmasking Passwords May Boost Conversion

Interesting report in El Reg on why "It's time to show most passwords in clear text as users type them," according to "Usability expert Jakob Nielsen and security expert Bruce Schneier."

Apparently masking the password as the user types (e.g. with blobs or asterisks) adversely affects usability and security. Users have a tendency to choose simple passwords, or cut and paste, to ensure they get them right. And frustration with errors may mean users don't bother to enter the site at all.

I wonder to what extent users might now expect to see password masking, and whether they might judge a site which doesn't use it as somehow less secure. To this point, the commentators suggest allowing users to enable password masking by ticking a box, especially where "shoulder-surfing" may be a risk (e.g. Internet cafés or open plan offices).

This would seem worth trialling at the very least.

Posted via email from Pragmatist's Posterous

Saturday, 27 June 2009

"Green Shoots" Shot

It will come as no surprise at all to anyone that the UK is still crunched. Yet the economic headlines in our miserable newspapers have been flip-flopping around like so many dying fish, claiming green shoots and "milder" forecasts one week, and doom the next. TV and radio reports are no better.

Readers of Flat Earth News won't be surprised by this either. The traditional media have been reduced to merely summarising speeches and economic reports without having the time or resources to check the facts, to put the "news" into any perspective, or to thoroughly state the context or bias for each report they're citing.

So it's about time the newspaper publishers really save some money, by cutting out the middlemen and delivering directly from the paper manufacturers to the fish'n'chip shops. That way they won't need to print a thing.

And if we simply ignore TV and radio news, it too will go away.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Web Filters To Block All Australian Content

The United Nations Safe Internet Committee (UNSIC) announced on Thursday that its web filters would no longer accept any Australian content. A spokesman explained: "The Australian government warned us that it has lost control of Internet content, and we should not accept any further Internet content from its servers until the problem is resolved."

When asked for the Australian government's response to those who believed in an open, neutral Internet, the UNSIC spokesman added, "Talk to the hand".

Posted via email from Pragmatist's Posterous

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Fat Cat, Long Tail, Trial and Error

I'm struggling slightly with John Kay's latest article "Counting errors: from the fat cats to long tails."

I understand the point about power laws, and to be careful making assumptions that one is dealing with "normal" data in any given scenario. But a problem I have with this article is John's claim that the long tail of book sales, is "truncated" because books that would only sell 1,000 copies don't get published.
"If book sales are governed by a power law, then if 10 American books sell 1m copies in a year, and 400 sell more than 100,000, then about 16,000 titles will sell more than 10,000 copies.... The rule would predict there would be 640,000 books selling more than 1,000 copies. There are not, and for an obvious reason. Most titles that might sell 100,000 books get published but most titles that would only sell 1,000 do not."
But surely lots of books get published that don't (initially) sell 1,000 copies, because publishers don't accurately predict sales. And surely that's the real point here: only 10 books might sell more than 1m copies a year, but you don't know ahead of time which 10 books. So it's still worthwhile listing on digital platforms titles that initially sell very poorly, because they might yet resonate with enough people who share the same taste and 'work their way up the tail'.

Similarly, John claims that:
"Companies that would have only a few thousand pounds of sales do not continue to exist: people who would have incomes below a certain level are supported by social benefits. To choose appropriate models you need to understand both the maths and the business environment. Media industries and financial institutions have both been unsuccessful in marrying these two skills."
This may be true, but the challenge of non-normal data is that you can't accurately predict which company will not continue to exist, or which people who are on low incomes today might strike it rich tomorrow, like J K Rowling (or they could be wealthy benefits cheats). You can't write off anything or anyone until it or they have actually failed.

On this basis, the conclusion ought to be that participants in the media and financial industries should be prepared to experiment - and fail - a lot before reaching any conclusion about what will necessarily be successful. That was one of my takeaways from The Black Swan.

Or am I missing something?

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Internet of Things... A European Prophecy

This just out from the European Commission: "Internet of Things: an action plan for Europe".

My apologies to the authors, but it seems to be a recital of various technological innovations concerned with RFID and the semantic web, attempting to link them to various pet EC initiatives in vague, mystical terms under a Pythonesque EU slogan. It concludes:
"As this document has described, IoT is not yet a tangible reality, but rather a prospective vision of a number of technologies that, combined together, could in the coming 5 to 15 years drastically modify the way our societies function."
Rather reminds me of this:

I guess it's all an attempt to put governments at the centre of the innovation process. What that will do to innovation is anyone's guess. Bizarrely, I see the EC is already requiring an opt-in before your milk can tell your fridge that it's past its use-by date. Lest you be "taken unawares by the new technology."

Please facilitate, don't regulate. You will only slow the pace of innovation.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Digital Britain

I should start my take on the "Digital Britain report" by making one thing clear: the fact that the government has issued the report is itself a Good Thing. The government does have a role to play in fostering and facilitating the growth of the digital world.

In that respect, the most important message in the whole document is this:
"We are at a tipping point in relation to the online world. It is moving from conferring advantage on those who are in it to conferring active disadvantage on those who are without, whether in children’s homework access to keep up with their peers, to offers and discounts, lower utility bills, access to information and access to public services. Despite that increasing disadvantage there are several obstacles facing those that are off-line: availability, affordability, capability and relevance."
However, the terrible news is that the detail of the report is merely a cascade of top-down recommendations to institutional problems, rather than a genuine attempt to clear the obstacles to every one of us seizing control of our dealings with government, banks, utilities, broadcasters and others.

Take the word "relevance" in the above quote, and consider the following passage that Technollama has extracted:
“The popularity of X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent shows the enduring drawing power of content-creating talent that few people possess. The digital world allows more of that talent to find its way to more consumers and admirers than ever before. But it is not wholly democratic: some have the talent to create content; many others do not. As throughout history, there need to be workable mechanisms to ensure that content-creators are rewarded for their talent and endeavour. And the need for investor confidence is key. User generated videos can be hugely popular, but there remains a healthy appetite for big movies costing many millions to produce.”
It's a sad reflection on the government's understanding of digital Britain, that "X-Factor" and "Britain's Got Talent" are not only seen as "relevant", but also epitomise Britain's "content-creating talent". It is deeply insidious for the government to claim that the digital world is "not wholly democratic". This is view of the online world is simply false. The digital world is much, much more important, relevant and creative than is suggested, and hugely democratic - much more so than this government would like. Television and user-generated video platforms are merely a part of a co-operative mix of many different types of web site that are increasingly inter-linked and intertwined, enabling access to a huge range of content in different formats from different people at different times on different platforms and networks, depending on where people are and what they're doing. "X-Factor" is just one pixel on a much larger screen.

So let's not allow a few television shows to be the Trojan horse for a bunch of protectionist measures for Britain's beleaguered entertainment institutions.

Just because television has "gone digital", does not mean that TV content is a proxy or yardstick for all digital content. Similarly, the fact that a few record companies have made uncorroborated guesses that they'll make £1bn less in CD sales over the next 5 years, must not colour our view of file-sharing or distract us from understanding the value of Net Neutrality. Their digital music sales increased by 28% in 2007, after all. And they aren't the only people relying on the digital media to release music. Furthermore, several studies on the impact of file-sharing appear to negate the assertion that file-sharing adversely affects creativity.

It is great that the government has demonstrated a willingness to foster the growth of digital Britain. But it is also extremely disappointing that the "vision" is for us all to be glued to a screen watching wannabes singing other people's songs.

FYI, I've extracted the government's proposed "Actions" below, and may comment in more detail on some of them later:
  • The Government will look to Ofcom to formalise the Consortium of Stakeholders to drive a new National Plan for Digital Participation.

  • The Government will ask the Consumer Expert Group to consult and report on the specific issues confronting people with disabilities’ use of the Internet in Digital Britain.

  • The Government will write to the Channel 4 Board asking it how it can further contribute to driving Digital Participation.

  • In order to ensure the delivery of the Universal Service Commitment, we will establish a delivery body – the Network Design and Procurement Group – at arm’s length from central Government.

  • The Caio Report recommended relaxation of regulations on the installation of overhead lines to lower deployment costs.The Government proposes to launch a consultation, by Summer 2009, on the impact of any amendment to the Code governing this.

  • The Government intends to consult on the proposal for a general supplement on all fixed copper lines for a Next Generation Fund.

  • The Government will have an independently produced guiding technical arbitration on the timing and cost of 900 refarming (and other related issues), paid for by an industry fund.

  • The Government will work with manufacturers so that vehicles sold with a radio are digitally enabled by the end of 2013.

  • On Digital Radio, the Government has asked Ofcom to consult on a new map of mini-regions.

  • Alongside the Digital Britain Final Report the Government is publishing a community radio consultation seeking views on changes to the current licensing regime.

  • Alongside the Digital Britain Final Report, the Government is consulting on a proposal to legislate to give Ofcom a duty to take steps to reduce copyright infringement.

  • The Intellectual Property Office is considering the scope to amend the copyright exceptions regime in areas such as distance learning and the preservation of archive material and intends to announce a consultation on these later this year.

  • The Government launched its copyright strategy

  • The Government intends to consult on legislative reform in respect of orphan works.

  • The Technology Strategy Board will lead and coordinate the necessary investment for Next Generation Digital Test Beds and has allocated an initial budget for £10m for this purpose.

  • The Government will consult openly on the option of a Contained Contestable Element of the Television Licence Fee, carrying forward the current ring-fenced element for the Digital Switchover Help Scheme and Marketing (c.3.5% of the Licence Fee) after 2013.

  • We will take the views of the Channel 4 Board on the draft updated statutory remit for C4 Corporation as set out in this Report.

  • The OFT will amend its guidance to ensure that in cases relating to local and regional newspaper mergers raising prima facie competition issues the OFT will ask Ofcom to provide them with a Local Media Assessment.

  • The Government is inviting the Audit Commission to undertake an inquiry into the practice of local authorities taking paid advertising to support information sheets.

  • Commercial public service broadcasting liberalisation, including regional news, analogue licences and advertising minutage

  • The Technology Strategy Board has assigned an initial budget of £30 million to advance Digital Britain related innovation.

  • The Government will carry out a major test in late 2009 of our ability to manage and recover from a major loss of network capacity.

  • The Information Commissioner’s Office plans to consult later this year on a new code of practice in relation to “Personal Information Online”.

  • The Government will consult on the penalties that Ofcom is able to impose for contraventions of the Communications Act 2003 and, in particular, the level of the fine it can impose in relation to persistent misuse cases.

  • Led by the Contact Council, chaired by the Cabinet Office, Government will take forward proposals for developing a Digital Switchover of Public Services Programme starting in 2012.

  • We propose that DCMS, BIS and Ofcom carry out an assessment, to be completed by the end of this year, of the opportunity for bringing together some or all of the delivery agencies either into one body or through a federated structure to achieve economies of scale and greater operational efficiency.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Role of Social Media in Financial Services

There's been a lot of excitement about recent "research" to say that only 10% of people on Twitter are responsible for 90% of the content, based on "a snapshot of 300,542 users in May 2009."

This is excellent news. Because if the basis for institutional people dismissing social media has become this hokey, the online world must have become truly mainstream.

We can stop referring to "Web 2.0" and just get on with it.

Twitter is interesting not because it's Next Big Thing, but because it's another popular way for people to engage with each other, either by publishing your own thoughts or reading those of others, but in a bite size format. The report that "figures from research firm Nielsen Online show that visitors to the site increased by 1,382%, from 475,000 to seven million, between February 2008 and February 2009" against Facebook's 228% growth for a similar period, suggests that it can afford to leave a few people behind.

But are they really being left behind?

You can't analyse Twitter in isolation, or say that it's really competing against anything or anyone. Twitter is not a divisible or competitive "channel" or medium. It's merely part of a co-operative mix of many different types of web site that are increasingly inter-linked and intertwined, enabling access to content from different people at different times on different platforms and networks, depending on where people are and what they're doing. Look at all the platforms or applications that enable people to send and receive Twitter "updates" - including Facebook -

We can have it all. At once. On one screen.

All of which is to say that Twitter - like any one of the other sub-networks on the Internet - is merely a hint of something much, much larger:

Interestingly, James Gardner, the Head of Innovation and Research in a major UK bank, says that, for banks, Twitter is a stunt. He says it's uneconomic for a bank to communicate through the medium because - I hope I don't summarise unfairly - it's too expensive for banks to create content that's relevant to people at scale. "Surely no one," he says, "thinks Twitter is going to be a channel choice that many customers are going to use regularly".

You mean there are predictable channel choices?!

Human physiology may be reasonably predictable, but human behaviour is not. Anyone who believes we can predict the means by which people will choose to manage their finances will be subject to a rare but cataclysmic event - a Black Swan, if you will - that could send them down the tubes (I've often wondered where "the tubes" go...). In reality, there is no "mass" of consumers, no bell-curve to accurately describe their behaviour to enable us to predict with any precision how each person is likely to behave next. We are merely guessing, because there is a point at which all those highfalutin credit scoring and other "models" break down, as even Lord Turner is now convinced.

Even Twitter could disappear in a sudden puff of user indifference, like others before it.

It's only one hypothesis, but to me the social media reflect numerous trends that seem to signify a (currently) rising desire to structure our personal lives and experiences as each of us sees fit. The commercial challenge that presents is how to facilitate that desire in a highly flexible, adaptable, bottom-up way, rather than dictate how it can be satisfied in a top-down fashion. Brands need to be facilitators, not institutions.

To illustrate this further, I'd suggest that the very complex dynamic process by which individuals might, say, save or invest could (rather crudely) be depicted as follows (click to enlarge):

or this:

In this environment it's an incredibly brave yet foolhardy commercial decision for any business to ignore Twitter. It may as well reach for the Webley now.

Hey, we have the Webby Awards honouring excellence on the Internet.. how about the Webley Awards for businesses that don't get it?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Gold-Plating The Consumer Credit Directive

Yep, the UK's bureaucratic alchemists are at it again, folks. They've taken a leaden, ill-conceived Consumer Credit Directive (2008/48/EC) and extended its application to UK products that are out of scope, "in order to maintain a comprehensive, homogenous set of rules" (see para 1.9), while rigidly interpreting many terms not defined in the CCD to further complicate the awkwardly prescriptive consumer credit regime.

Add to that over 100 pages of impenetrable bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, 68 incredibly complex questions and an implementation deadline of June 2010, and say goodbye to any more retail financial services innovation for at least 2 years while we try to resolve all the uncertainty.

Moreover, the complexity of the one-size-fits-all regime being proposed, save for a 'light-touch' exemption for bank-only overdrafts, will give banks an even greater advantage over non-banks in providing consumer credit. Product development will be constrained by a complex and awkward regulatory regime, leaving many consumers with overdrafts (or loan sharks) as the 'easiest option'. In turn, consumers will be exposed to tighter credit conditions being imposed by banks, who will enjoy an advantage in 'up-selling' their own credit products to the more creditworthy.

Overall, the result will be less choice and poorer value for consumers, and a feast for banks and loan sharks alike.

Gareth Thomas, the Minster responsible, has a lot of explaining to do. But maybe he figures it's all over for him, anyway?

Meanwhile, the so-called "Better Regulation Executive" appears to be sleeping peacefully, secure in the assumption that all this nonsense delivers on a commitment to regulation that is:
  • "transparent" - this extended scope was not revealed as the UK's intention when the CCD was consulted upon at EU level.

  • "accountable" - why should national bureaucrats decide the scope of an EU law?

  • "proportionate" - but it goes beyond the scope of the CCD, and is therefore disproportionate.

  • "consistent" - but it's inconsistent with the CCD, and as such fails to deliver a "harmonised" or consistent cross-border credit market, which the CCD was (misguidedly) intended to catalyse (see Article 22).

  • "targeted" – far from it, these are explicitly described as a "homogenous" set of rules.
Wakey-wakey everyone...

Is Your Mobile Number in This Directory?

I was stunned to learn from El Reg, that Connectivity Limited, trading as 118800, has "worked closely with the regulatory authorities" in launching "the only directory with millions of mobile numbers" in it. When you want to track down someone's mobile number, you enter the poor unfortunate's details and if 118800 has the number, this crowd will text the person a message to call you.

WTF?! This is hardly innovative or useful to anyone except stalkers and cold callers. If I wanted people to whom I haven't given my mobile number to be able to call my mobile, I'd publish the number myself and they could Google it, or find it on Facebook or wherever. But I don't. And I stopped publishing my home number for the same reason years ago.

Naturally, one of the FAQs is "How the !*&% did you get my mobile number?" (not), and their answer is:
"Our mobile phone directory is made up from various sources. Generally it comes from companies who collect mobile telephone numbers from customers in the course of doing business and have been given permission by the customers to share those numbers."
Well, I'm sorry, but I can tell this crowd right now that NEVER in all my years of giving out my mobile number, did I foresee or intend that I was consenting to its inclusion in this type of service. And I hate that they have put me in a position where I have to go to the trouble of telling them to delete me from their systems.

The Information Commissioner is reported as saying this service is no different to the practice of selling marketing lists. But this is vastly different in scale, accessibility and because the people who sell marketing lists don't text you every time someone buys the list or wants to send you junk mail.

The Commissioner needs to get a grip.

Meanwhile, time to register the mobile number on the Telephone Preference Service.

Monday, 8 June 2009

How To Find An Extra £8bn - Fast!

They've been desperately downing the Kool Aid in Downing Street, those who are left. No more polite chat while queuing for the tea urn during cabinet meetings, cup and saucer in hand. Now they're swarming around it at each serving, ripping the lid off and plunging their cups in.

And while we are highly amused by Gordo's ghastly predicament, we are no longer to be distracted from his latest, clunking sleight of hand.

The TaxPayers' Alliance has all the gory details, but at the heart of the matter is the fact that the UK will now officially have two sets of books, as the FT faithfully reported in mid-May while we were still goggle-eyed by certain accounting matters of a more personal nature.

One set of books will be produced under international financial reporting standards to fulfil the Treasury's "promise" to record PFI projects against government's capital expenditure totals; and another will be prepared under European standards, which doesn't bake in the cost of PFI.

I do not need to point out which set of books the Treasury uses for budgetary purposes... Nor do I need to remind you that even the off balance sheet deals are getting bailed out with taxpayer's money.

So, for a start, 60% of PFI projects will remain off balance sheet. But that's not all:
Nick Prior, head of government and infrastructure at the consultants Deloitte, said: "This clarification is extremely welcome for the future of PFI and PPPs. Government departments should now be able to bring forward projects that have been delayed because of uncertainty over budgetary arrangements."
That's £8bn worth of "uncertainty" to me and you, but not even a line item for Darling, if and when he gets up on his hind legs to deliver the next budget.

Let's hope MPs don't forget to mention the fact...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Parliamentary Reform Must Be A Messy Process

Over on Lords of the Blog we've been debating whether Constitutional reform is the answer to our Parliamentary woes. "Lordnorton" bemoans the fact that "a great many people have reform agenda, but agenda that have little coherence... We need to look at Parliament, and indeed our constitutional arrangements, holistically." He's called for a commission on the constitution, "open to all, not just the usual suspects; new technology provides the means for wide consultation. The main challenge will not be employing the new technology, but rather persuading people to submit their views."

I agree. Yet this holistic process should not be engineered from the top down in a nice orderly fashion. A dynamic, open, democratic approach which encourages broad engagement by all stakeholders cannot realistically appear neat and linear. The Internet affords the opportunity to capture, rationalise and unify apparently messy data contributed by disparate opinion-holders whose views tend to be missed in the current formal processes. Sites like mySociety already play this kind of role.

While it seems almost trite now, the BBC heralded the shift toward an interactive, dynamic political process at the "E-envoy" conference in 2002:
“Currently…we are all used to… top down provision of information …whether it’s [from] a media company or the Government to you the audience or citizen. What we want to move to is this interactive model which has lots of conversations in lots of directions. Not only do we communicate to the users in this model, they can communicate back to us and they can communicate with each other, both through us and actually independently of us… Through digital media, like interactive TV, SMS text messaging and the internet, we can create very new networks of information exchange, ones we haven’t seen before.”

"...[W]hen the [pension] reforms are explained to people
they will see that they are the right thing to do."
Gordon Brown, Financial Times 8.11.05

He cannot allow them any serious discussion about priorities. His view is that it is just not worth it and ‘they will get what I decide’. And that is a very insulting process. Do those ends justify the means? It has enhanced Treasury control, but at the expense of any government cohesion and any assessment of strategy. You can choose whether you are impressed or depressed by that…
Lord Turnbull,
Permanent Secretary to the Treasury,
referring to Gordon Brown, in 2002 20.03.07

While participation in formal “party” politics has been dissipating, citizens have found alternative ways to assert themselves. Any idea that they have become generally apathetic is a myth, as recent events have shown, and the Power Inquiry noted in 2006:
“There is now a great deal of research evidence to show that very large numbers of citizens are engaged in community and charity work outside of politics. There is also clear evidence that involvement in pressure politics – such as signing petitions, supporting consumer boycotts, joining campaign groups – has been growing significantly for many years. In addition, research shows that interest in “political issues” is high.”
In a long-since deleted press release in June 2007, the Cabinet Office warmly welcomed a report that urged the facilitation of a bottom-up approach to the use of public sector information, stating:
“The Government should work in partnership with the best of citizens' efforts, not replicate them. If we really want to deliver better public services, the best way to do that is bottom up. Change is driven by better feedback, open information and more ways in which citizens can make their voices heard about what matters to them. The challenge is for all public bodies to think about how they can respond to the challenges described here."

Citizens themselves are already helping each other in online communities. If 30,000 parents were meeting in a park or football stadium to share information and tips about parenting, government would take notice. That they are doing it online simply means we have to find different ways to take their efforts just as seriously.”
And George Osborne's remarks in November 2007 have often been quoted since:
“With all these profound changes – the Google-isation of the world’s information, the creation of on-line networks bigger than whole populations, the ability of new technology to harness the wisdom of crowds and the rise of user-generated content – we are seeing the democratisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. … People… are the masters now.”
Lest anyone doubt that a broad-ranging, grassroots, web-based discussion of policies can result in an engaging, unifying event, they should consider Barack Obama's path to the White House.

By all means list your reform proposals in the comments... here are a few from me:
  1. prevent the abuse of secondary legislation as a channel for avoiding substantive debate on legislative measures;

  2. wholly elected Lords;

  3. 4 year fixed terms, with no government discretion as to the precise election date;

  4. publication of expenses, interests, emoluments via Parliamentary web site in a format that readily permits analysis;

  5. restraint on MPs/Lords taking roles in the industries they oversaw for at least 6 months after leaving office;

  6. no second home allowance (but state funded accommodation in a converted local authority housing block reasonably local to Westminster);

  7. requirement for both houses of parliament to approve UK's initial and ultimate responses to proposals for European directives.

The Bank That's Fair

Speaking of Black Swans and risk in retail financial services, I just happened across What Were the Credit Card Companies Thinking? on the Harvard Business Review blog. HBR emphasises the point that you can choose to keep ripping people off, but it's inevitable that your business practices will be rendered unsustainable by regulation or customer revolt.

Some might say the predictability of that means it's no longer a "black swan", but the card issuers seemed oblivious or in denial. Like the turkey that's expecting another meal after being fed for 1000 days, only to get eaten. Or like an MP preparing to file another expense claim...

My bet is that this process of exposure and elimination will happen faster and faster as the social media continue to grow and the ripples of influence become more pronounced.

Which reminds me, the House of Lords is due to hear the latest appeal in the bank charges litigation later this month... Will the banks battle on to their death, or see the value in conceding customers' entitlement to refunds?

Event Promo: Role of Social Media in Financial Services

On 16 June, the Financial Services Club is hosting a discussion about the role of social media in financial services. A senior central bank spokesperson commented that the event should be of special interest to banks:

If you wish to attend, members should register here and non-members should register here. Non members are invited to attend this and other events at the special rate of £95.00, plus vat, refundable if the individual subsequently becomes a member of the Club. Drinks and canapés are included and there will be an opportunity to network.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Lessig: How Money Affects Political Trust

Some prescient remarks, made in the context of political donations, which apply more directly to the cash-for-amendments scandal but also suggest the reason for our concern over MPs' attitudes to expenses:

Hat-tip to Paul Miller.

The Story of Zopa

Giles Andrews, Zopa's Managing Director, explains how the social lending marketplace evolved. Hat-tip to P2P-Banking.

Giles Andrews from Zopa from The IPA on Vimeo.

Swinegate and Consitutional Reform

I've just seen some patronising rubbish in the Spectator about concern over MP's expenses being overkill and somehow bad for the British democratic process.

Swinegate is just the straw that broke the camel's back. At different times, on different issues that each of us cares about, we have all felt that politicians are up to no good in their various machinations. Now we've all caught them, red-handed, pulling the same stunt at the same time. It does not matter that we have merely caught a crowd of them failing to do something as basic as filling out an expense form with diligence and propriety. The panic-stricken response right across the political spectrum is clear evidence that the politicians now know that we know just how opaque and unaccountable Parliament is generally.

The great news is that this has alerted a wider community of people to consider what goes on in Westminster. But these are still early days in this process of awakening. So it's way too early to constrain debate by saying that constitutional reform is not the answer, for example. Let's get the whole sorry parliamentary institution laid out on the table and then figure out how to reform it.

More light, please! We have work to do...

Mapumental Map-Timetable-House-Price Mash-Up

See the movie, read the blog and apply here for your invitation to the private beta.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Blawg Review Citation

At last! An edition of the Blawg Review that one can safely cite without incurring the Censor's wrath. Unlike Geeklawyer's spine-tingling Blawg Review #203 ...(uh oh). Never mind. Charon QC has tripped the light fantastic with this edition, brought to you by Smokedo - Smoke yourself fit with Charon.

I'm so inspired I could ignite a Choix Supreme and spend an hour on the rowing machine.
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