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Natural order

17 Jul

Douglas Adams

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.


The Internet.

Directly-elected executive mayors.

Yep. Douglas Adams nailed it.

Buzz off

30 Jul


Last week I got an email from location-based social network Foursquare:

About five years ago, we launched a little app called Foursquare. As one of the first million people to sign up for Foursquare, you’ve been with us pretty much since the beginning. You’ve seen us grow from a tiny project to a 50,000,000-strong community. And, we’re about to embark on our biggest change yet. We are rolling out two apps – Swarm and Foursquare – one focused on keeping up and meeting up with your friends, the other focused on finding great places.

It went on to explain that all check-ins would be moving to the new Swarm app, while social recommendations would remain in the revamped Foursquare app.

So now I’d have to use two apps to do the things I could previously do in just one. 

That’s not an improvement, that’s stupid. Is that putting users first? No, it isn’t. It’s being a dick.

Why can’t I check-in using the perfectly functional Foursquare app I already use? I tried to do that on Monday and got a pop-up message telling me to go to the App store to download Swarm.

But I don’t want to download Swarm. And judging by the reviews a lot of other people don’t want to either:

  • Game over
  • What’ve you done?
  • Why make it complicated?
  • Total disaster
  • Stupidest app ever
  • RIP Foursquare

So I cancelled my Foursquare account. And I told them exactly why: they are clueless idiots who have taken a perfectly good, usable, useful, fun service and ruined it.

Love Newham?

17 Mar

Why would you build an app like this:


When your mobile website looks like this:


Apps are all well and good, but you need to build different versions for different phones – iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and so on. A properly designed mobile website will work on all phones, plus tablets (the Love Newham app is only designed for phones), and doesn’t require citizens to go through the extra steps of visiting an app store, signing in (assuming you already have an account – if you don’t setting one up is another step), downloading and installing. They just work.

And they provide access to the full range of online council services.

But if people really want a dedicated app for reporting problems, why not simply point them to MySociety’s FixMyStreet app? Point 2 of the Government Digital Service’s design principles says it best: do less. If someone else is doing it — link to it.

I don’t know who’s advising Newham council on digital strategy, but if it was me I’d put developing a mobile version of the website a long, long way ahead of building an app.

How to get an iPad mini for just £130

27 Sep

Apple’s iPad mini is one of its best selling products. In the UK these retail at prices starting from £269, going up to £529 for the top of the range. Huge demand and Apple’s wholesale pricing policy mean even the high street chains won’t offer discounts.

But you can get one at a knock-down price if you just follow these five easy steps:

  • Get elected mayor of Newham
  • Go on a trip to China to visit possible investors in a new business park in the Royal Docks
  • Receive an iPad mini as a gift from your hosts, Advanced Business Park (China) Holdings Group Ltd
  • Return home and declare the gift, stating it has a value of just £130
  • Announce you wish to keep the gift for your personal use and that you will reimburse the Council to the equivalent value – that’s the £130 you told them it was worth.

And now the iPad mini is yours. Easy!

Not so smart on a phone

22 Jul

What Newham’s website looks like on my iPhone

According to the Office for National Statistics:

  • Access to the Internet using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2012, from 24% to 51%.
  • In 2012, 32% of adults accessed the Internet using a mobile phone every day. [my emphasis added]

There really is no excuse for not having a proper mobile version of your website.

And yes Newham council, I am looking at you.

Another kind of video surveillance

6 Jun

Not content with having his own private uniformed police force patrolling the streets of Newham, Sir Robin Wales has now set up his own Internet monitoring group. This special team of ‘enforcement officers’ spends its time watching YouTube videos as part of a “crackdown” (arrggghh!) on gang culture.

A report on the BBC website says this has been going on since January and 500 videos have been identified, of which YouTube has agreed to remove 76.

You have to wonder how much this is costing and whether it is in the least bit effective. Taking down just 76 videos isn’t much a success rate out of the 500 this team found – clearly YouTube has a more robust understanding of the concept of freedom of speech than our mayor. And how many hours of YouTube did they have to watch to find those?

The mayor says this is being done to “reduce publicity” for gangs, but it looks to me like the start of a very dangerous and slippery slope. Today it’s gang-related videos, tomorrow who knows… political criticism of the council?

In these times of financial constraint, is this really what people expect the council to be spending its money on?

The crowning irony though is that the same mayor that is trying to take down tiny amounts of Internet video is busily collecting hundreds of hours of footage of ordinary people going about their daily business via his massive CCTV network.

UPDATE: I have submitted an FOI request to Newham council about the costs of this new YouTube monitoring unit:


Yahoo! Hullabaloo

8 Mar

2013-02-15 16.27.04

A blog by me about remote working, which I wrote for my employer’s website.

You can read it at home if you like, or the office – wherever suits you best:

Yahoo! Hullabaloo | betransformative.

Talking to Jeff Jarvis about Tax

14 Nov

[View the story “Talking to Jeff Jarvis about tax” on Storify]

Scratching the Surface

6 Jul


Last week Microsoft summoned journalists to Hollywood for a major product announcement. What they unveiled was Surface, a new tablet computer that will run Windows 8.

Microsoft is going to control both the hardware and software platforms for this device. It will be manufactured and marketed as a Microsoft product and compete directly for sales with companies that are otherwise partners in the PC business.

Although Microsoft is no stranger to this approach in the games market – its Xbox console is among the market leaders – this is a major change of strategy in the mainstream PC market, where previously the company has licensed its software to a range of 3rd party vendors and left them free to design, build and sell the hardware it runs on. 

This strategy led to mega-profits, as the marginal cost of each new copy of Windows and Office sold was close to zero. Microsoft dominated the technology sector and was for a time the world’s most valuable company. So why change a winning formula? And why risk antagonising a whole raft of your most valuable partners?

A hint lies in the identity of the company that is now wears Microsoft’s old crown and is rated the world’s most valuable business: Apple.

Apple now exceeds Microsoft (and incidentally Google) in operating margin percentage, despite the vast majority of their revenues coming from hardware sales. Apple’s thing has always been controlling the whole customer experience through tightly integrated hardware and software. Its model is cheap (or free) software running on moderately priced hardware; Microsoft’s has always been expensive software running on cheap hardware.

Mobile industry analyst Horace Dediu estimates that Microsoft makes a net operating profit of $78 per PC sold, assuming that PC has both Windows and Office installed (and most do). Apple, by contrast, makes $195 of operating profit per iPad sold.

Sure, Microsoft has bigger volumes – there were 336 million Windows PCs sold last year – but that will change. The iPad has created a new market that is growing rapidly, which is disrupting the PC market and in which there is almost no competition. It is a market in which Microsoft’s traditional model is doomed to failure. It simply cannot maintain its current per-device profits selling Windows and Office to 3rd party vendors when Android is free and Office-like software is available at a fraction of the cost.

Surface offers the Redmond giant a way out. If it can sell the devices at the same prices Apple sells its iPads for it can maintain its profits (at least on a per device basis).

The problem will be making and selling enough of them. And as we still don’t know – more than a week after the launch event – when Surface tablets will be available or how much they will cost, it is hard to know if they will succeed. While the PC market is not going to die anytime soon Microsoft needs a new strategy – for now, Surface looks like its big bet.