Find me over on Posterous

I’m currently working four days a week within the BBC Archive development team on the top floor of TV Centre, and as a result finding time to blog, write columns and keep up to date on my RSS feeds is proving increasingly tricky.

I’ve started using Posterous to repost material as it’s easier to send them an email than it is to add and edit a post here. I’ve added an autopost feature from Posterous to this blog, too,  but it may be worth looking at if you want to keep track of me for the next few months.

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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#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.’

Continue reading “#amazonfail FTW!”

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.

Digital politics is different

[As ever, this is also on the BBC News website, and the Modern Liberty site has lots of links and content to delight and entertain…]

In November 1988 Stuart Weir, at the time editor of the New Statesman,  published a special edition of the magazine asking those concerned with the health of British democracy to stand up and be counted.  The proposal, which he called ‘Charter 88’, called for a new constitutional settlement, one which would guarantee civil liberties and the rule of law.

Shortly afterwards 348 people paid for and signed an advert in The Guardian newspaper asking people to offer support, and a year later an organisation called Charter 88 was founded to take the campaign forward, with Anthony Barnett as its first Director.

The Charter was eventually signed by over 85,000 people, including me, and the organisation it inspired continues to campaign for democracy, rights and freedoms as Unlock Democracy.

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Beware complacency, not cancer

[As ever, this on the BBC News website.  And as of this morning Facebook seems to have decided to open up some of its processes to user engagement, so the dangers I talk of may be avoided]

The fuss over Facebook’s attempt to modify the contract with its millions of users has died down for the moment, and I haven’t noticed any of my friends closing their account or even significantly changing their behaviour in protest despite the widespread coverage of the incident.

The problem started in early February when Facebook updated the section on its site which establshes the legal agreement with its users.  Like most people who use it I didn’t notice the change, and even though Facebook clearly knows who I am and how to contact me I didn’t get a message or see a notification in my news feed about it.

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Get Carter…

[As always, this can be read on the BBC News website. And thanks to Tony Hirst there’s a commentable version of the Digital Britain report, which we will draw to Carter’s attention..

Added 8/2/09: there’s a useful commentary on the Power of Information beta from the ‘other Tom Watson’ on TechPresident.


It may well be that Stephen Carter is pleased with the generally negative response to the Digital Britain report he has assembled over the last few months with help from people like psychologist Tanya Byron, Spectator editor Matthew d’Ancona and Channel 4 deputy chairman Barry Cox.

After all this interim report is intended to outline the policy challenges to be addressed in a final set of recommendations and proposals published later in the year, and so its primary purpose might simply be to stir things up and let all of the interested parties know that the issues that matter to them are in the frame.

In which case hearing that universal two megabit per second broadband is pathetically slow compared to other countries, that the idea of a rights agency to negotiate online copyrights shows no understanding of the reality of current download practice, and that the chief executive of Trinity Mirror, Sly Bailey, feels that the report shows a ‘crushing lack of understanding of the urgency required for changes to merger regulations in the local and regional media sector’ might simply reassure Lord Carter that at least everyone is taking notice.

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Our Connected Christmas

We had a traditional Christmas this year, though since the kids are now sixteen and seventeen their sleep patterns were not disturbed by an anxious wait to see what Santa would provide in return for their good behaviour during the year.

After a lazy morning, a protracted lunch and a game of Scrabble we settled down to watch Doctor Who and the latest Wallace and Gromit, assembled on the sofa in a perfect twenty-first century family scene.

However in a slight break with tradition our shining faces were illuminated not just by the glare of the television but also by two laptops and my iPod Touch as we used Microsoft Messenger, Facebook and Twitter to keep in contact with our friends around the world.

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Home Life

We had a visit from Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC technology correspondent, yesterday – they wanted to film my home network setup for an internal BBC presentation and talk to me and the boy about the future of television.

Rory also blogged it and even made a short video

As a BBC veteran, I’m obviously not the best person to take a completely impartial view on the importance of Project Canvas.That’s the plan outlined on Thursday by the BBC, ITV, and BT to co-operate on a common platform for IPTV – or, as an ITV statement put it rather more usefully, to “bring broadband and television together in one box”. There are plenty of obstacles to be cleared – regulatory rows, technical teething troubles, standards snafus – before we start plugging a set-top box into our broadband and watching the iPlayer and other online video offerings on our televisions rather than on a computer.

But I think that this is an exciting development that could be an important step on the road to the connected home that technology gurus have been promising us for so long. Just one question – by the time the rough sketch of Canvas becomes the full picture, won’t millions already be choosing different ways to pipe web content around their homes?

By chance, as Thursday’s announcement was being made, I was in a house that is already wired for the future. We were filming at the home of Bill Thompson, top technology pundit and columnist on this site, as part of a report on the way we may all consume the media five years from now.

And I even managed to make it into the iPlayer day coverage 🙂

Making the Market Work

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

Twitter, despite the attention it receives around the place with its high-profile users like Stephen Fry, is not the only micro-blogging service out there.

I quite like Tumblr, and Stumbleupon does something useful, while BrightKite links notes and photos to your current location and is growing fast.

One service I never really tried seriously is Pownce, and now I’ll never get the chance as the company has been bought by Six Apart and is going to be shut down.

Continue reading “Making the Market Work”