OUsfulgrabA quick post to link to two interesting explorations of data on MPs’ expenses: Maps and graphs over at OUseful.info and at Digital Urban expenses loaded into MapTube

Neither analysis generates a new newsline but as the OUseful blog points out:

One thing these quick to put together maps show is how powerful map based displays can be used to get a feel for local differences where there is a difference. (There may well be a good reason for this, of course; including errors in the data set being used…)

Quite. Even if news-orgs don’t want to put material on the front page that has not been transmogrified into the “house style”, letting reporters look at analysis like this is a good way of targeting coverage.

The maps also highlight the power of online visualisation tools such as MapTube and Many Eyes.

BBC R&D TV is “designed to be sharable, remixable and redistributable. It’s released under a Creative Commons Attribution (Non-Commercial) licence, and looks at interesting tech stories inside and outside the BBC”. I like to think of it as a video Lego set: we encourage people to take our raw material and go play with it. There’s a sampler of whats on offer below. I’ve contributed a couple of interviews, including the interview with Nicholas Negroponte, which was originally recorded for radio (hence the ridiculous mic and brick shaped recorder!). The web has been a wonderful source of inspiration for me, it’s great to be able to really give something back.UPDATE: The 30 minute version is below:

I’ve a post over at the Radio 4 blog about a piece I did on The Archers and Game Theory. Credit to Steve for the apposite photo.

Innovation in news is always a gamble. In 1858 the “journalist and balloonist” Gaspard-Felix Tournachon placed what was, in terms of his own safety, a very large bet. Cramming an entire darkroom into the basket of a hot-air balloon, Tournachon took the first aerial photograph: a picture of the village of Petit-Becetre.

Tournachon’s motivation was little different from that of today’s innovators, to produce something new and distinctive through the application to technology.

With personal recommendation and sharing of content driving distribution there’s a clear premium on material that earns the remark, “Hey, have you seen this?” Innovation can be one way of achieving that.

But as revenues shrink the logic of large speculative investments becomes harder to justify. So, to borrow a concept from Nicholas Taleb, the strategy now should be to place many small bets.

What do I mean by a small bet? Here’s an example: three days after Obama’s inauguration the sixth most linked to blog post was a 1,474-Megapixel Photo of the event. There were a great many photo’s taken that day but a robotic camera mount costing around $400 dollars delivered one of the most compelling images.

Similarly, ten days before that photo was taken Paste magazine discovered that it’s online Obamicon generator toy was getting more traffic than the magazine.

There is, of course, a large element of success bias here – many experiments will fail – but that’s why it’s important that the bets are small. I’ve read others describe the “small bets” approach as rather like being “an investor in options” but you could also think of it as a system of venture capital too.

So how can organisations successfully encourage small scale experimentation and innovation? Here are some suggestions:

  • Encourage play and experimentation at work
  • Value success more than you fear failure
  • Create communities of innovation that extend beyond your organization
  • Make use of 10% time
  • Cut red tape
  • Be open to ideas from outside

I could have added a willingness to take risks to the list, but it might be better to say that organisations should fully appreciate the risk associated with not innovating. In the past decade we’ve seen initially small websites go on to transform the media industry. Waiting for someone else to build the future and then trying to buy your way back in can be an expensive business.

Last weekend was spent at the UK’s first Maker Faire.


Sounds were recorded and are up on BBC News Online and in the player below.

Or if you fancy hearing it on your iPod with lots of other bloggy goodness it’s available as a podcast here. (Though I can’t think what they mean, when in the podcast description it is written that “This week Chris Vallance magically changes into a 6 year old boy in the presence of robots at the UK’s first Maker Faire.” hmmm I blame @jemimah_knight )

Social Media Burnout.

March 11, 2009

Have you heard of S.M.E.B.S?

S.M.E.B.S – The Documentary from Marcus Brown on Vimeo.

The twit and wisdom of Marcus Brown. Monday eve was spent watching @Marcus_Brown perform live twitter readings at The Market Porter – he’s something of a genius.

How can an organisation like the BBC benefit from cultivating a culture of openness? Blogger Steve Bowbrick was asked to find out. In the interview below Steve sets out some of what he discovered as the beeb’s resident “Openness Tsar”.

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It’s not every day that a radio programme ends up in the Proceedings of the 17th Geographical Information Systems Research UK Conference, Durham University, England. but thanks to some very helpful and talented researchers, there we are.

In “Is writing for the rich?” Francis Wilkinson argues that rates of pay for prose are so low, the profession of serious journalism could become only accessible to those of independent means. Wilkinson writes:

In 2007, I was in charge of recruiting writers for the expansion of The Huffington Post. I calculated that I would need 75 unpaid blog submissions per day […] That target seemed absurd at first. Yet within two months, hundreds of willing bloggers had signed up…

Wilkinson worries about who will write – I’d also be concerned about what will be written. Op-eds may be delivered for glory alone, but free won’t persuade anyone to spend a dreary afternoon noting what was said at the local county court.

In the UK Harley St is synonymous with private medicine, but is the reputation justified? Hitherto searches for businesses in Google maps yielded 10 results, Google’s new map layer (accessible via google.com not google.co.uk) now displays many more of the listings in a category to be found in a defined area. Display the results of the cosmetic surgery category in Google and you get a clear cluster around Harley St (see below). Similar clusters (in London) are revealed for other business categories: Film production, for example, tends to be located in a quite discrete area of Soho.

harleystThere’s a significant amount of information locked up in online advertisements, and while Google’s listing aren’t a perfect reflection of UK economic activity, they are an increasingly important indicator of it. How much of this data Google will want to open up via API’s etc, is uncertain but there’s potential here for some very interesting work, particularly if you consider sectors of the economy not captured in traditional surveys but which may advertise online.

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