Games san frontieres

[As ever, this is also on the BBC News website]

Back in February early adopters of the Spotify music-streaming service found that they could no longer listen to every song in the catalogue. The popular startup had been forced to limit access some songs and artists by country because the licensing deals struck with the record companies and bands specified which territories each song could be played in.

As the company noted on its website at the time, ‘these restrictions are a legacy from when most music was sold on tapes and CDs and they have continued over into streaming music, our hope is that one day restrictions like this will disappear for good’.

Despite protests over the changes the record companies have not yet eased the restrictions, and Spotify joins the long list of digital services that have embraced the global internet but restrict access to their content on the basis of where in the world someone happens to find themselves.

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Getting Under the Bonnet

[As ever, this is also on the BBC News website, though note that I *don’t* think we should be a nation of programmers – the question mark is there for a reason!]

I’ve had my own website for fifteen years now, running on a wide variety of different computers. I started off with some space on the PIPEX WorldServer, a large – for the time – system that offered web hosting back in the days when getting online was a dark art and I was lucky enough to work for one of the early commercial internet service providers.

On leaving PIPEX I moved over to Cityscape, another Cambridge-based provider from the early days. When they [update: as Simon notes in the comments, they didn’t go bust but were sold, but they did stop hosting stuff for people like me…] went out of business I set up a server at home for a while before relocating the hardware to a shelf in the corner of a friend’s office, where he was happy to offer bandwidth and a power supply for a very modest monthly payment.

Three years ago I moved the whole thing again, this time onto a virtual server at Bytemark, one of the many small hosting companies that offer friendly and reliable server space for all sorts of organisations.

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#amazonfail FTW!

[Update: You can read this on the BBC News website, as usual.  And the talented Craig Seymour – who was amused to have his many achievements summed up as ‘former gay stripper’ –  has an interesting and pretty straightforward suggestion for how Amazon could resolve the issue of ‘adult’ content on his blog.

Further news: Nick Carr quotes my comment that Amazon will take a long time to recover, but notes that ‘for Amazon, a “long time” in realtime is equal to about five minutes in clock time’. I fear he’s absolutely spot on – would be fascinating to see if Amazon’s sales figures even show last weekend as a blip. Ah well…


While millions of people tuned in to Doctor Who and Red Dwarf over the Easter weekend my holiday entertainment was provided by typing ‘amazonfail’ into the Twitter search engine and watching the stream of outraged posts about the company that used to be the world’s favourite bookstore flow across my laptop screen.

The PR nightmare started at some point on Sunday when an angry post on the LiveJournal blog site by author and publisher Mark Probst broke through into online consciousness. He had noticed that his book The Filly, though still listed on Amazon’s US website, had lost its sales ranking data and was no longer appearing in relevant searches.

An email from an Amazon representative informed Probst that his book, a romance featuring gay characters, had been classed as ‘adult’ and removed from the ratings system so that the search pages would be more ‘family-friendly.’

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New fun and new names

If you’ve nothing else to do over the Easter break – well, it’s a break here in the UK – then can I suggest checking out some things I’m currently involved with:

The Songs of Imagination and Digitisation project, at, where I’m helping manage work to build an illuminated book for the digital age, to be published by if:book with support from Arts Council England.  My bit is ‘Blake’s Netbook’, a tool through which writers and poets can talk through the online voice of William Blake, as at

The new website for Writer’s Centre Norwich, the institution formerly known as the New Writing Partnership. I’m on the board of this fine organisation and have been helping them with their digital strategy. The new site is an interim one, hosted on WordPress, but worth a visit.

The Journalism Department at City University, London, where I have recently been appointed an Honorary Senior Visiting Fellow – no pay, no desk, no money, but a position I am proud to hold in a department whose reputation continues to grow.

Dreamers of the Network World

[As ever, this is also on the BBC News website]

Last Saturday morning I woke up and reached for my phone so that I could spend five minutes catching up on email, Facebook and of course overnight updates on Twitter before I got up to make some coffee and start the day.

Radio 4 is the best way to find out what’s happening in the rest of the world, but having easy access to news from my online social networks in bed is one of the boons of having  home wireless connection and a small portable computer that masquerades as a mobile phone.

One of my Twitter friends, game designer Jane McGonigal, had not slept well.

Had a nightmare last night. Ustreaming from home. In the chatroom, everyone starts typing INTRUDER! INTRUDER! Someone snuck in

she tweeted, followed by:

They saw it but I didn’t. I’m terrified. I wake up (for real) and can’t shake the feeling someone is in the apt. Very hard to sleep.

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Pavement computing


Originally uploaded by BillT.

Spotted on St Peter’s Street, Princes Street (on the corner with Elm Hill) Norwich, on my last visit to the New Writing Partnership office.

[Update: I got ithe street wrong – foolishness of not geotagging pix as soon as they are taken. thanks to my commenter for the correction]

Connecting Clouds

[As ever, this can also be read on the BBC News website]

History is littered with manifestos, the public statements of principles and intentions that announce policies, revolutions or ambitious visions in politics and the arts.

Every political party produces one in advance of an election, and significant manifestos from history include the Communist Manifesto of 1848, the the Futurist Manifesto of 1909 and André Breton’s  Surrealist Manifesto of 1924, which opens with the glorious claim that ‘so strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life – real life, I mean – that in the end this belief is lost.’

In the internet age we’ve had the Cluetrain Manifesto, various ‘Internet’ manifestos and of course John Perry Barlow’s famous  Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace which tells the governments of the world that ‘You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather’, and is a manifesto in spirit if not title.

The great manifestos demonstrate a clarity of thinking and expression that can galvanise public opinion, reinforce political movements and create new cultural modes of expression,  often because they are strikingly expressed and written in language that motivates and inspires.

Who could fail to be moved by the Futurists’ claim that ‘the essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt’ or Cluetrain’s twelfth thesis: ‘There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products.’

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