From the archive…

I wrote and published this on my blog in September 2003, over three  years ago, and came across it while rebuilding my home page today. I think it is even more relevant now.
In February I wrote a column for BBCi’s News Online in which I called for the creation of ‘OfSearch’, a UK government agency charged with the regulation of Web search engines.

This proposal generated considerable online debate, much of it from US correspondents and little of it positive. As so often in the past, I was chastised for my interventionist socialist proposals and criticised roundly for believing that government and regulation can solve any of the world’s problems.

Continue reading “From the archive…”

Living in the wired world

[As ever, you can read a slightly shorter version of this on the BBC News website]

Anyone who has been online for some years, as I have been, should have felt remarkably smug this year as the Internet and all of its associated technologies, services, protocols and applications went mainstream.
The change was clear in the media, where stories about Web 2.0 startups, Google’s machinations, the imminent consumer launch of Vista and the importance of Wikipedia made the main news pages of the papers, featured in magazines and were covered extensively on radio and television.
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Welcome to the new economy…

This year there has been remarkably little fuss made over the continued growth of online shopping for Christmas presents, perhaps because we’ve finally reached the point where it is just a normal part of our lives.

After years of effusive headlines – the BBC had ‘Internet shopping set for new record’ in December 2002, and ‘E-Commerce set for Xmas bonanza’ in 2003 – we seem finally to have accepted that the network is here to stay and settled down to use it.

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Have yourself a carbon-wasting Christmas…

This Christmas period offices will be empty of staff as the country shuts down for the extended celebration that has become the norm over the last few years. Many staff will head home from work on Friday 22nd, not to return until January 2nd. They’ll leave behind the wreckage of the Christmas party, a pile of unopened mail and, if they are at all typical, a lot of glowing lights.

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Why standards matter

On Thursday I’m heading down to London to attend the IEC Centenary Challenge Awards at the IET building on Savoy Place – just at the back of the better-known hotel -and give a talk about why standards matter.

It should be a fun day, with a distinguished audience including professors and students of technology, engineering and business.
It will also give me a chance to catch up with Tom Standage, technology editor of The Economist, who I remember when he was just a fingerling, working on Guardian OnLine back in the day.

It’s not too late to sign up – go to to register.

Who criticises the critics?

According to Nick Carr:

Jon Pareles, the New York Times rock critic, has a nicely balanced piece today surveying the various crosscurrents roiling today’s media markets…

Yet over at Buzzmachine, Jeff Jarvis weighs has a different take, castigating Pareles for not having faith:

Choice is good, not something to be lamented. Indeed, I find it ironic that a critic, of all people, should be complaining about choice. Choice is precisely what necessitates criticism.

Fortunately Suw Charman already knows the answer, over at Strange Attractor:

we don’t need gatekeepers anymore. We don’t need people who stand between us and our stuff, deciding what to tell us about and what to ignore. We don’t need arbiters of taste. There are so many blogs out there reviewing software and web apps and films and books and every other sort of creativity that we don’t need to rely on the media’s old gatekeepers telling us what we should like.
We do, however, still need help. There’s just too much stuff around for us to know what’s out there, to keep up with what’s good, what works for us, what is worth investigation. What we need are curators. And we need them badly.

There are day when I rather enjoy this brave new world we’ve conjured up 🙂


Corby, a steel town in the middle of Northamptonshire, has been getting some attention recently. Graham Williams’ YouTube documentary, ‘corby, welcome to hell‘ is five minutes of despair, while The Guardian ran a two-page spread in which the town is called “Britain’s official ‘yob capital’“, beginning with a splash of local colour – the toxic orange of Irn Bru.

With a metallic tinkle, a discarded can of Irn Bru is rolled by the wind along the pockmarked road outside the Arran community centre. Sheet metal is stapled over the windows of derelict flats nearby.

Corby in Northamptonshire has been branded the yob capital of an increasingly yobbish country.

Continue reading “Corby”

Sound recording copyright

One of the big fights was over proposals to extend the copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 years. The idea is comprehensively demolished in Gowers:

4.26 But the fairness argument applies to society as a whole. Copyright can be viewed as a ‘contract’ between rights owners and society for the purpose of incentivising creativity. As MacCauley argued in 1841, “it is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good”.30 If the exclusive right granted by copyright (or indeed any other form of IP right) lasts longer than it needs to, unnecessary costs will be imposed on consumers.

I love the MacCauley quote! This is shortly followed by:

4.40 In conclusion, the Review finds the arguments in favour of term extension unconvincing. The evidence suggests that extending the term of protection for sound recordings or performers’ rights prospectively would not increase the incentives to invest, would not increase the number of works created or made available, and would negatively impact upon consumers and industry. Furthermore, by increasing the period of protection, future creators would have to wait an additional length of time to build upon past works to create new products and those wishing to revive protected but forgotten material would be unable to do so for a longer period of time. The CIPIL report indicates that the overall impact of term extension on welfare would be a net loss in present value terms of 7.8 per cent of current revenue, approximately £155 million.

and then:

Recommendation 3: The European Commission should retain the length of protection on sound recordings and performers’ rights at 50 years.

of course, it’s up to Europe so the fight is not over, but the evidence collected in Gowers must make it unlikely that the record industry will get its greedy little mitts on this one.