Digital Democracy

April 4, 2010

For the Internet Superpower season on the World Service I produced five pieces which ran across radio news programmes on the broad theme of Digital Democracy. I’ve included one of the features below. It looks, as far as is possible in about 5 minutes, at social media and influence – in particular the way companies and governments are attempting to use online social networks to monitor and, in some cases, change our beliefs and behaviour. (I’d mentally slugged the piece “The Hidden Persuaders” as a tribute to Vance Packard’s book of the same name)

Some of the pieces were also written up online:
US calls for ‘YouTube’ of government data
Web inventor calls for government data transparency
Activists turn ‘hacktivists’ on the web

Radio At The Edge 09

December 6, 2009


Only a month late with this post. I moderated a session at Radio At The Edge 09. The audio and video of all the sessions is now up online. Well worth a look (and listen) if you are interested in radio, technology and what happens when the two get acquainted.

Over The Air 09

October 27, 2009

darlekeditThis year saw the 2billionth download from the Apple app store, the number of apps for sale has now surpassed 100,000

While Over The Air 09 was in many ways just a bit of fun, events that help sustain the application developer “ecosystem” (Matt Cashmore who organised the event even has that in his job title) are increasingly commercially important.

For Radio 4’s PM programme and Five Live’s Pods and Blogs I produced a short report on Over The Air 09. You can hear the report on Five Live here thanks to the new extended Podcast archive or in the player below (the piece is towards the end of the podcast)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

On the theme of phone technology I also wrote this piece for BBC News Online recently.

Webb on presenting.

October 27, 2009

At the dog end of summer Radio 4 blog boss Steve Bowbrick was kind enough to ask me to interview Justin Webb about his first stint as a regular presenter of The Today programme.. The audio is below.


June 1, 2009

A while ago I wrote a BBC newsonline piece about Mysociety’s ScenicOrNot. There was also a piece on PM which I can’t put up here unfortunately because it contained non-podsafe music. Oh well.

The data harvested by the ScenicOrNot survey, has contributed to Mapumental a 4ip funded project It’s still invite only. I have one and it is extremely cool – to find out what it does watch the vid at the end of this post or read more here.

There is, I’m sure, a good deal of journalism to be spun out of these maps. I’ve been playing around with journey times to Westminster, which if you think about it could have some bearing on recent controversies. You can see how Mapumental displays this kind of info in this screen grab posted to flickr.

If you want to find out more about Mapumental there’s an introductory video with a commentary by Tom Steinberg.

Where everyone is.

May 30, 2009

In a widely linked to post, “Where is Everyone?”, Thomas Baekdal claims that, “In the next 5-10 years, the world of information will change quite a bit. All the traditional forms of information are essentially dead.” The future according to Baekdal is social:



But for all their visual flair what do Baekdal’s graphs actually show? Though Baekdal asks “Where is Everyone?” the graphs do not represent audience figures. In the comments Baekdal says, “This graph does not illustrate the size of the different forms of media. It illustrate their importance. In short, where should you focus your efforts if you want to stay relevant.” (emphasis mine). Near the end of the comments he says, “The Y-axis is ‘Influence‘” Divorced from audience numbers, measures of “importance”, “focus” or “influence” seem hard to pin down. It’s not clear what is being measured or how. Though we are told this is based on ‘surveys’, none is cited, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that these are very impressionistic figures.

Nor is it clear which geographic market the graphs represent, a very important question for those who think about media strategy. “Where is everyone” indeed.

History lessons.

The message of Baekdal’s graphs is that new forms of media push out old. Radio is a case in point. By 1998 we’re told “radio [was] almost reduced to a place where you listen to free musicThe Today programme might argue with that – “generally considered to be the most influential news programme in Britain“, according to wikipedia. In fact, radio, at least in the UK market (that where question arises again) is still growing.

In radio we see something not reflected in the graphs, the idea that linear and social media can be complementary. Radio and Twitter seem to flourish in a wonderful symbiotic relationship. And it seems rather artificial to draw a clear line between podcasting and radio when podcasting is helping radio stations grow audience see here and here too

In conclusion.

None of the above is to say Baekdal is wrong in the broad thrust of his argument – media is clearly going to become increasingly social, and increasingly “personalisable”.

But while Baekdal’s graphs are a visually pleasing piece of design, they merely illustrate his own convictions rather than providing evidence to support his ideas. If we really want to understand what’s happening in the media industry we have to look elsewhere, when we do we find the picture is rather more complex than Baekdal suggests.

Radio listenership in the UK is measured by RAJAR. The latest figures are out and the news is, on the whole, good.

RAJARS regularly attract press attention – but another set of good figures are also of worth noting: numbers of radio Twitter followers. Consider the man currently top of the UK Radio People on Twitter chart, Five Live’s Richard Bacon as an example:


@richardpbacon’s follower numbers have grown from 7k in February to 250k in May. An additional “reach” of 250k in 3 months, though one would assume many are existing listeners.

Following on twitter isn’t a passive act – it’s a reasonable assumption that twitter followers expect to interact with the host. With that in mind, readers who know the figures for individual programmes, may find it interesting to compare the ratio of followers to listeners with what we know about levels of audience participation from other studies.

PGP and Surveillance

May 6, 2009

I was at the Infosec conference last week. Phil Zimmermann the creator of PGP spoke passionately about the so-called “surveillance society”. He granted me an interview which is written up on NewsOnline. There’s a clip below:

Another interview I recorded at with Infosec Whitfield Diffie is featured on Pods and Blogs this week. He talks about the changing nature of secure computing.

Babbage on innovation

April 18, 2009

Further to my post about News and Innovation, my better half unearthed this quote from Charles Babbage:

Propose to an Englishman any principle, or any instrument, however admirable, and you will observe that the whole effort of the English
mind is directed to find a difficulty, a defect, or an impossibility in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling a potato, he will pronounce it impossible: if you peel a potato with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless, because it will not slice a pineapple.

There’s more on Babbage, in the continuing adventures of Babbage and Lovelace, a must for all steam-punk-archaeo-computing-comic fans.

Cheeta, R2D2 and WALL-E

April 14, 2009

Blam! Kapow! Zapp! On Friday the BFI hosted a talk, The Sound Behind the Image: An Evening Celebrating The Art of Sound in Action Adventure Films, lead by Academy Award Winning Sound designer Ben Burtt. These notes are based on my rapidly fading recollection of the evening, they may well contain errors.

The talk began with a clip of the Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894) the first film with live recorded sound. You can watch and listen to it below:

In this film the images were recorded simultaneously with the audio; the pictures were, Burtt argued, merely there to illustrate the sound. In modern action films foley is added after the film is shot, and in the public mind, sound (if you’ll excuse the pun) plays second fiddle to pictures. But sound is a vital, if undervalued, part of movie making.

Burtt is clearly a man fascinated by sound, and with considerable powers of discrimination: stock “sounds” beloved of rival studios were explored, the “Frankenstein” lightning which rumbled across numerous US films contrasted with British “Hammer Horror” lightning, slightly longer as befits a country blessed with an abundance of weather. On two occasions Burtt revealed bizarre incongruities between the origin of movie sounds and their eventual use: the photon torpedo sound from Star Trek was originally used for a scene in a Marlene Dietrich movie where she jumps on a bed (as I type that I wonder if I remember correctly) and the voice of a Star Wars alien Burtt called “mosquito man” was derived from highly distorted clips of John Wayne.

But sound design in film is more than just sound effects. Showing Cheeta the chimp “acting” in Tarzan and His Mate (1934), Burtt argued that the foley work which created the ape’s vocalisations, in effect created the character. Cheeta’s squeaks and whoops prefigured Burtt’s best known work,the “voices” of R2D2 and more recently WALL-E. Burtt is now the character voice designer at Pixar.

The BFI talk was a wonderful, if not validating, experience. Though movie foley is often an audio fiction, it shares with the “audio facts” of radio news a need to create mood, atmosphere and to evoke. It was nice to know there are other audio geeks out there, beyond the world of radio.

If you want to get a flavour of the talk, there’s an excellent interview with Ben Burtt on WNYC’s Studio 360 programme. I did see a camera at the BFI event so it is to be hoped that the talk will be availble on DVD or online at some point.