The recent fiasco around The Atlantic’s sponsored article in support of Scientology has highlighted something rather important: disclosing a conflict of interest does not exonerate a news source from poor quality control. A “sponsored content” label basically amounts to disclosure that the source was paid to post an advert in the guise of actual copy, and so this example provides ample evidence of why we as content consumers should not so readily accept the disclosure argument as a means of preserving journalistic integrity.

This all raises another important point. A disturbing trend has emerged in recent years whereby the tech media are posting conflicted content and taking on clearly biased writers while using the disclosure argument as a sort of back door out of accepting responsibility for such shoddy journalism. Let’s be clear– just because conflicts of interest are disclosed, does not mean that a publisher is somehow absolved from this sin.

It is very true that conflict of interest cannot be avoided altogether, but providing a platform for people like MG Siegler and Michael Arrington to make paid regular comment on issues of interest to them seriously compromises the journalistic integrity of TechCrunch. The involvement of both of these authors in the CrunchFund venture capital firm means they largely cannot write without bias on topics relevant to the tech industry. Disclosure does not mitigate this– it simply makes it apparent. They should be free to write whatever they want on their own personal blogs but being paid to write articles for a widely-consumed blog professing to have some degree of journalistic integrity? We should not so readily accept this.

I don’t mean to single out TechCrunch. Many other tech blogs are littered with embedded disclosure statements, post “sponsored content” or even include “disclosed” affiliate links in their posts, such as this example from The Next Web. Again, the disclosure of this fact doesn’t somehow elevate TNN out of the depths of journalistic depravity; it simply makes its lack of journalistic integrity more apparent. Of course, if it were to hide this fact this would be a greater sin still, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that TNN is getting paid to write articles about certain topics, and being paid specifically by those that stand to benefit most from the entailing publicity.

And now with this latest The Atlantic fiasco, it should be even more painfully apparent why we cannot simply accept content peppered with disclosures and assume that all is bona fide. Instead we should seek out news sources that genuinely provide a wide, fair and balanced spectrum of information, ones where disclosures of this sort are completely unnecessary.

Written on January 23rd, 2013 , All, Ruminations, Tech

Jack Dorsey recently blogged about how they are abandoning the term “user” in favour of “customer” at B2B mobile payments provider Square. This was a shock for me, because in all my years of being a “customer” nothing has irked me more than being considered simply and only that by the businesses behind the products and services I use.

Being a customer implies that you are nothing more than a unit of economic value to the business, a target to be fleeced of cash, a necessary inconvenience that brings little more to the table than dollars and cents. When I use products and services I generally engage with them far more than what the term “customer” implies. Not only am I a customer, for that product I am a reviewer, a quality gate, a contributor, a value creator, a proponent, a promoter, and sometimes even an evangelist. I am not just a customer. Being called a user may be vague, but at least it doesn’t obscure all this and reduce me to a mere financial incentive for the business. Now that really drives me bonkers.

Written on October 18th, 2012 , All, Mobile, Ruminations, Tech

There’s not much I can say to sum up what was a totally spectacular show, involving amazing pyrotechnics, incredible lighting, and soundbites from the Prodigy, Orbital, Sex Pistols, Dizee Rascal and more. Awesome.

Written on July 24th, 2012 , All, Random, Ruminations


For some time now I’ve been comparing my usual search queries using this Google vs Bing tool, and the frank truth is that for a lot of the things that I search for, Bing gives me more accurate results that are more relevant to me than Google. This is likely only to improve when Wolfram Alpha is incorporated into Bing, but even now I can’t deny that Bing is the best default search engine for many of my queries.

But I haven’t switched, and I won’t. Google is still my default home page in every browser I use. There’s one simple reason for it– my online behaviours have become so enmeshed with Google that any sort of divorce is quite simply not an option. So what serves as the ball-and-chain? iGoogle and Google Apps, which have become products that drive me continually back to Google’s economic engine: Search.

Many years ago I began using Google Apps as a matter of curiosity and convenience. It started with Gmail, and some time later followed with Google Reader, Google Maps, Google Calendar, and Google Docs. Now I have become so dependent on all of them that they effectively act as an impetus to continue to use good old iGoogle as my home page, even if better search results are out there to be had. Giving up easy and immediate access to my all-important iGoogle + Google Gadget-based Apps dashboard is simply unfathomable. The plain truth is that I am no longer simply a regular user of Google Search but rather a hooked user of the Google Platform, of which Search is only a part, and for me to give up my dependency on the platform would be a huge task.

The introduction of social features into Google products only tightened their grip on me. With the arrival of Google Talk/Chat in 2005 I was suddenly able to interact with my Gmail contacts in the immediate form of instant messages. Google almost overnight took on characteristics of a social network, and I found myself with yet another compelling reason to have Gmail and hence Google itself open on my desktop at all times. Even the fact that Google Talk uses open protocols and that I could use any XMPP client with it is not enough to dissuade me. And midway through last year Google introduced social features into Reader. The nefarious Google Grip tightened fruther. Social features tend to make products especially sticky for the simple reason that everyone wants to be where their friends are, and the cost of switching tends to be high (e.g. building up a whole new network of contacts in a new product).

Two things are set to draw my relationship with Google even closer. One is the emergence of Android. I have avoided adopting an Android handset for the same reason that I have in past shunned the iPhone: poor feature set. But this is set to change this year. Android will finally see handsets with good quality cameras, zippy processors and all the other high-end features we’ve come to expect. And because of Android’s fantastic integration with Google apps, these new devices will only serve to further the Google platform’s importance and dominance.

picardchromeborgThe other, of course, is the coming of Chrome OS. As Google Apps already acts as a sort of social and professional productivity platform, an operating system that supports and increasingly intregrates the products of the platform makes perfect sense, and yet will further indenture us to Google. Then, like the hive mind stretching its tentacles into the consciousnesses of all its Borg followers, so too will Google’s reach extend out to all of us via our mobile and desktop operating systems, with Search at its core.

So even if Google Search isn’t the stand-out it once was, ultimately Google and me look set to be partners for the longhaul. iGoogle & Google Apps have effectively bound me to using Google Search. Google’s operating systems will cement this relationship further. If Bing could match the ease and convenience of iGoogle + Google Apps with similar products, then they’d still have the enormous barriers of social software change to overcome. You’re fighting a tough battle, Microsoft.

Written on February 3rd, 2010 , All, Ruminations, Social Software, Tech

It’s amazing how Google’s product announcements can instantaneously shake up the landscape of a market. When Google announced Google Maps Navigation at the end of October, the share prices of Garmin and TomTom crashed by 16% and 21% respectively. And since then they’ve only gotten worse.

Just yesterday, Google did it again by announcing high-level details of a new property service to be integrated into Google Maps. This would allow estate agents and private individuals to list properties for free, while companies like Rightmove continue to charge agents hundreds of pounds a month in fees. Furthermore, most of these services are closed to private home sellers. Needless to say, Rightmove’s share price tumbled 10% yesterday.

So what’s Google’s next target? It’s probably an industry you don’t want to be in.

Written on December 4th, 2009 , Ruminations, Tech

Today marks Facebook’s 5th year of allowing us to get more digitally intimate with our friends, as sources across the web have noted (e.g. TechCrunch, ValleyWag, BBC). It has undoubtedly changed the way we interact with each other online, but for me and many others, one of the more resounding effects has been the way it encouraged us to move beyond the years of cultivating quasi-anonymous online personalities that reveal very little about ourselves.

My first taste of the internet came in 1993 when I used it primarily for chatting with others via Internet Relay Chat (IRC). At the time, the thought of revealing my identity to others was inconceivable. The IRC nick name restriction of 9 characters meant that we came up with all manner of short pseudonyms to represent ourselves. Over time one might let drop a detail or two about their “meatspace” existence, but certainly in my case, it was never much.

Because of a lack of trust, because there were sometimes nefarious things going on within these digital communities, because almost no one I knew in real life used the net, and because it was simply the digital norm, people didn’t reveal much about themselves unless it was for professional or academic purposes. Even then, it was common for this digital incarnation of someone to remain separate from the one used for day-to-day and personal net activities. For me, at least, my digital existence was almost entirely separate from my physical one, except for a limited set of personal data I kept online to act as my professional and academic web presence.

In the late 1990′s, web-based message forums were all the rage. These made it much easier to develop relationships with people online, as they allowed for a more media rich social experience than the text-based one of IRC. Still, it was not common for someone to use their real name instead of a dreamt up nick name, but it did become easier to trust people and eventually meet those on a local community forum than it had been previously. User profiles allowed one to indicate superficial data like age and gender. I still went to some effort to disassociate my real-world identity with my digital one, even if I did allow the two to intermingle.

As the 1990′s progressed into the noughties and blogging became more popular, the use of nick names began to diminish. But still, many people avoided revealing too much about themselves on social networks like MySpace. It was still fairly de rigeur to use a clever pseudonym or simply a first name on MySpace rather than your real name.

Not until Facebook arrived on the scene did I totally eschew using pseudonyms for my personal (vs professional) online existence and bother to input a detailed and accurate account of myself. I do remember feeling uncomfortable as I registered with Facebook and wondered if I would later come to regret exposing all this personal data. I haven’t, and in fact I’ve realised what a great joy can come from sharing so much online with my real world friends. Finally, my real world life and digital one are able to overlap in a way that is socially rewarding and fulfilling. Naturally, there comes some danger with opening up too deeply online, but as Facebook offers a plethora of privacy setting I feel pretty much at ease.

And now we are in an era where many new web applications don’t even ask for a nick name upon registration. Mobile, location-aware and proximity-aware technologies will only blur the divide between our digital and physical selves further, and Facebook will have played a key part in getting us there. Thanks FB! Happy Birthday.

Written on February 4th, 2009 , Ruminations, Social Software, Tech

Well, that was certainly painless! I’ve finally gotten around to setting up WordPress after a long blogging break. The last blogging package I’d used was one I’d banged together myself in PHP + MySQL, which was a fun little project, but it had become increasingly difficult to keep up with the features offered by the turnkey solutions. WordPress was a pretty easy choice after reading a few reviews. (Great little blogware breakdown chart here)

And away we go.

Written on March 12th, 2007 , All, Ruminations, Tech is proudly powered by WordPress and the Theme Adventure by Eric Schwarz
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