Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Internet: Arguments, Not Facts

The internet isn’t full of facts. It’s full of arguments. As demonstrated by this article on the New York Times’ site:

http://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/acorn-in-the-age-of-post-journalism/

which quotes Mark Bowden in The Atlantic, who says that “work formerly done by reporters and producers is now routinely performed by political operatives and amateur ideologues of one stripe or another, whose goal is not to educate the public but to win.”

Bad news.

But it makes sense when you think about it. All that content on the web: think about who’s providing this stuff. Every single entry posted by an amateur on the web is probably going to be from an interest group. Someone with an agenda.

And it’s compounded by another problem: people look for things that confirm their own beliefs.

http://www.livescience.com/culture/090608-media-message.html

I’m not a creationist. But if I were, I could find ample evidence on the first page of google for my beliefs.

The idealised neutrality of the internet actually entrenches beliefs, rather than expanding horizons.

And this is where people get their facts from. Wikipedia, and Google (which could be replacing general knowledge…)

http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/content/brian-cathcart/no-passes

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Reputation, choice or effectiveness?

Apparently the government is worrying about reputation of local councils:

http://www.idea.gov.uk/idk/core/page.do?pageId=7816238

Given it’s our money they’ll be spending, I wonder whether they should be. Apparently there is no correlation between satisfaction with council services and satisfaction with councils. I can see the argument for making sure people are happy with services: they need to be used to be useful, and people won’t use services they don’t think are any good.

But it’s not as immediately clear why it’s in the public interest for people to be happy with councils. Just as brand campaigns can be a corporate indulgence, shareholder value squandered by the pride of senior management, I can see this campaign squandering public money on a private vanity project.

I guess there might be arguments to the contrary. Maybe people are less engaged with politics if they are dissatisfied with their council. Maybe people commit social crimes if they feel disenfranchised. But if that’s the case, it isn’t clear from this article.

I think this is important. Government should have a clear effectiveness mandate which makes sense to us as shareholders. Even if we devolve executive responsibility to them, we should be clear on why they’re making the decisions they’re making.

A classic example is choice. Government thinks choice is something people want. It’s at the heart of the philosophy of the modern NHS. It’s something councils also think people want. And yet. According to the article quoted above, satisfaction with a council doesn’t really depend on whether they can make their voices heard. According to research I’ve done on perceptions of the NHS, choice isn’t really as important to people as the idea of a reliable safety net. In fact people would rather they were just told where to go, as long as the basic level of care was consistent. Many suspect choice is simply a way of dressing up uneven quality of delivery.

Again, I think if the Government were clearer on exactly why choice is a good thing people might not be so suspicious. Unfortunately, though, I wonder whether they have a reason. To a lot of people it feels like inappropriate import of commercial, consumerist ideas. They might be right.

The Ghost Of Christmas Future

Was reading Henry Jenkin’s Convergence Culture, and specifically the example of the New Orleans New Media Experience in October 2003. Lots of talk between Microsoft and Sony, apparently, about what would make people buy Grandpa a console for Christmas.

Which made me think about the tendency of Christmas to be a step-changer in technological takeup. (Remember DVD players in Argos?) And about whether part of the secret of making that step change happen is how good you are at giving people (users?) reasons to buy it for completely different groups of people.

Like when I got my DVD player for my Grandad, I got a simple one. Now before that Christmas probably very few Grandads had DVD players. So simplicity wouldn’t have been on the techie developer’s radar.

Rewind a couple of years, though, when the model I bought was on the drawing board, somebody thought ahead and made a DVD player for my Grandad, who at that moment probably hadn’t even heard of DVD players.

(Or maybe they just made a DVD player that would be cheap – in which case, happy accident.)

Which I guess means that people should plan ahead to the mass takeoff of their product. Think about what will make that happen (possibly with one eye on gifting occasions). Probably ignore all the expert reviewers, who want spec. Then plan it in up front.