Category Archives: The Future

Embedded tech can be implanted in brains, thanks to new power technique

Re: Wearable tech can be implanted in brains, thanks to new power technique

That title has it wrong – it’s not embedding wearable tech, it’s just embedded tech.

I’ve been saying for a while that I’m not interested in wearable tech like “smart watches” -it’s embedded tech that excites me, and this innovation is a great move forward in that area.

Why super intelligence?

This fascinating article about human extinction includes a big section about artificial intelligence (AI) and the risks of creating a super intelligence.

It reminds me that so much of what I read on the subject focuses on the idea of a single, intelligent machine that could provide extraordinary decision making power.

I’m skeptical that AI will lead us in that direction though. Why would we use AI to create something so risky when the reason we’re doing it is to reach past or own cognitive limitations?

Instead, surely AI will be used to improve our own cognition, not create a new cognitive superpower.

It’s the same reason I’m not convinced by augmented reality (AR) yet. While Google Glass looks impressive I just can’t see it going mainstream. The only way AR will receive mass adoption, in my opinion, is through embedded technology – retinal implants, for instance.

It’s that evolution from wearable tech to embedded tech that will bring AR into the mainstream, and it will present humanity with the technological vehicle to use AI to enhance our own cognitive abilities, without the risk of manufacturing our own destruction.

Getting serious about hyperlocal, part 3: Money, money, money!

Parts 2 and 3 of this series covered legal issues and journalism. Now I’m going to cover that big elephant in the room: money.

Much (most, all?) of the hyperlocal efforts at the moment are voluntary, passion-driven projects. Many I’m sure cost only time; it’s easy enough to run a site on for free for example. However, plenty are paying for web hosting, travel, equipment and more. And while most hyperlocals aren’t for-profit ventures, it’s far better for them to be not-for-profit than anything else.

So how do they achieve this? Here are a few suggestions;

  • Advertising – e.g. using a system like Addiply
  • Business directory – like that in use on Visit Horsham
  • Estate agent listings – the newspapers do it, so why not us?
  • Job listings – same as above, why not?
  • Selling content – articles could be sold on to franchises like AboutMyArea, The Best Of or even local newspapers
  • Print version to be sold in shops
  • Classifieds (perhaps using Oodle)
  • Eating out guide, with restaurants given opportunity to enhance their listing for a fee
  • Entertainment guide with a similar option for venues
  • Sponsorship – for example, the sponsor of the local football team may sponsor all the posts about the club
  • T-shirt range – like BiNS is doing
  • Gifts & novelties – sell locally significant stationery, stickers, posters, flags, anything!
  • Lead generation for local businesses (thanks to Craig McGinty)
  • Targeted affiliate stories/advertising features that relate locally, e.g. to the local football team (c/o Craig McGinty again)
  • Swapping services for adverts (okay, not strictly making money but could pay/provide for much needed resources (via Ventnor Blog)
  • Market research (from Martin)

You might think, “Phil, why are you giving us all these ideas, surely this is stuff you should keep to your chest and make lots of money for yourself!” Maybe, maybe not but we need to get serious about making hyperlocal pay so let’s talk about it.

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments and on Twitter #HLA.

Getting serious about hyperlocal, part 2: Journalism

While the conversation continues around legal issues, burning issue number two in my mind is the quality of hyperlocal content. I’m very fortunate that at the helm of The Lichfield Blog is former journalist and current journalism lecturer, Ross Hawkes. I’ve learnt a lot from Ross, mainly that as hyperlocal looks to play a part in local media, it needs to be underpinned by that traditional role of the local journalist. Knowing legally what can and can’t be reported, ensuring that coverage is, as far as possible, un-biased and that those involved in a story are given the right to reply. And there’s much more.

As I see it, new hyperlocal sites springing up in response to disappearing newspapers need a basic journalistic foundation if they are to provide real quality. Those so-called ‘citizen journalists’ need those skills if they are to provide a really valuable, quality alternative or replacement service. At the same time there are journalists sitting at home having been made redundant (and plenty who haven’t) who are looking at hyperlocal and thinking it’s a train they need to catch.

For the citizens, I reckon it’d be good to provide them with a bit of training in the importance of checking facts and the right to reply. This could include some legal training and making sure they have a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. Some journalists might need a helping hand in figuring out online news gathering and social media, especially if they come from a very traditional media background.

Again, a hyperlocal alliance might be a way of providing this. It could act as a training and support hub for anyone interested in or running a hyperlocal. Those without the necessary skills can gain them and those with skills can improve upon them and support others. Like a collaborative support network, a big hyperlocal media surgery in the cloud.

Following the excellent discussion on Rhubarb Radio‘s Sunday Local with Birmingham Post editor, Marc Reeves and epic visionary Andrew Brightwell, the cogs started turning about existing local media. First I thought, could existing local media take advantage of all this enthusiasm coming from communities and deliver basic journalism training (especially on legal issues) in exchange for stories? It’s the news onion, again. The bloggers would effectively act as independent journalists, with their own site but as freelancers for local media. Thoughts very welcome on this one…

The way I see it, journalists are being made redundant by local media left, right and center. It may save some money short-term but long term, they’re lowering the quality of their output at the hyperlocal level. That’s why sites like The Lichfield Blog are springing up. Now, to my mind one of two things will happen moving forward; a) journalists will independently fill that gap left by existing local media and eventually send them out of business or b) citizens will fill the gap and local media will have to embrace them and actually use their content out of a lack of resource to get stories themselves. Okay, or c) a bit of both. I’ll be honest, my preference is with ‘a’ – why let all that talent go to waste?!

Either way, the same skills that we benefit from when reading the local paper are going to be needed, as well as some new ones. Who provides the training? Again I ask could we collectively provide the necessary training? How do we fund that? Who does it? How is it delivered? Or do you even agree that those skills are needed? We need to figure it out if hyperlocal is going to make a real difference.

Again, I’ve started a journalism discussion on the hyperlocal alliance group and comments are welcome here or on Twitter with the #HLA hashtag.

Getting serious about hyperlocal, part 1: Legal issues

More and more as things progress with The Lichfield Blog it’s becoming apparent to me that hyperlocal has a real part to play in the changing local media landscape. So it’s time to get serious and look at what we need to do if we’re to make a serious contribution to local media. There are three areas that seem to be the most important to me and I’ll cover these in a series of blog posts. This is the first post in the series and it’s about the legal issues we face.

First off, we’re vunerable. All manner of threats are around and could rear their ugly head at any moment. One of these is legal action and recent news that one law firm has created a team dedicated to online comments makes the issue all the more evident.

In Lichfield we are fortunate that most of the posts are written by journalists who have the necessary training to know what they can and cannot write. But then there are comments… We take the ‘see no evil’ approach – comments are open and we provide a reporting feature for any comments that are inappropriate. Anything we think is potentially libellous is removed, but only if we see it or if it’s reported. Posts we deem likely to generate inappropriate comments are pre-moderated which means muggins ‘ere gets to be flooded with ‘please moderate this’ e-mails.

Sometimes we get caught out. Just the other week we had a case where we had to turn moderation on for a particular post because of some really unpleasant comments. What happens when we get caught out and don’t/can’t react quickly enough?

Unfortunately, we have very draconian libel laws in the UK.  The risk is one day we might get some kind of legal action and have to employ the services of a lawyer to help us figure out what to do. When (not if – I’m expecting it to happen one day) that starts to happen our £72.50/mth isn’t going to last long.

What we could really do with is guidance before that happens. Maybe a hyperlocal alliance would be a good way to provide that to all our fellow hyperlocals and bloggers and those considering starting up? It’d help to provide a little bit of security to hyperlocals as we figure out where the future lies.

Such an alliance could provide;

  • Tips on how to avoid action (e.g. when to moderate)
  • Advice on what is and isn’t acceptable in posts & comments
  • How to deal with take-down notices

I’m sure there’s more that could help, but I’ve not experienced it yet (thankfully) so I don’t know! Thoughts welcome…

I checked with lawyer Chris Sherliker (who offers free tidbits of legal advice via Twitter, so follow him) about liability and he warned that the author, owner and ISP could all face legal action if libellous content is posted on a blog. That’s a very scary thought.

And yes, all very good talking about it but what are we going to do? Well, I’m not exactly sure how to go about it. We’ve got to get the legal advice from somewhere and that’ll cost… so how much is it and who funds it? Who’s likely to fund it? Is there someone we could ask to fund it? Could we collectively fund it? Do we allow anyone to access that advice and guidance? What else could we provide? I don’t have the answers but if we club together maybe we can come up with them, so what say you?

Let’s get talking about this. Will Perrin’s hyperlocal alliance group on the Social by Social Ning is a good place to start (I’ve started a legal issues discussion) and let’s get chatting on Twitter too – how about using #HLA? Don’t forget there’s also some good tips from Talk About Local on defamation.

Update: Dan Slee has just published an excellent post on his blog title, “BE LEGAL: Six things a hyperlocal blogger really should know about the law

Update: The backdrop to this post, as mentioned is the far from acceptable libel laws we have to deal with. Paul Bradshaw has written a great article on how you can help change the daft defamation law on online publishing.

Recognition for The Lichfield Blog just keeps on growing…

When I first got involved in The Lichfield Blog back in February this year I had no idea that six months later I’d be writing a business plan for a brand new social enterprise.

The Lichfield Blog banner up at Fuse Acoustic '09

I never thought I’d be looking at stats showing an average of 11,000 visitors each month (equivalent to over 10% of Lichfield District’s population* and a third of the circulation of leading print weekly, the Lichfield Mercury). Nor did I imagine it would spur such cool things as Lichfield Social Media Cafe and Lichfield Social Media Surgeries (both still in planning). I would have laughed if you’d have told me I’d be live-streaming local artists at Lichfield’s Fuse Festival. A look of disbelief would accompany the thought of our MP, Mike Fabricant advertising on the site.

I knew we’d do lots of very cool things with it – as seems to be customary now my brain buzzed with ideas for exciting developments as soon as I saw it. I’m taken aback by the way things have played out though.

When I first started working freelance in November 2007 my aim was to be a leader in my industry. The heavy involvement in The Lichfield Blog and the recognition it’s seen has proven to me that I’m starting to achieve that.

That recognition has seen a massive boost over the past few weeks for two big reasons. The first is securing Michael Fabricant MP as an advertiser on the blog. He was our third advertiser and (we think) the first MP to advertise on a hyperlocal media site. Rick Waghorn of Addiply (the ad system we use) took the opportunity to shout about it that very afternoon at NewsInnovation London. I saw the tweets rolling in and I could barely contain my elation at having made such an impact.

Second reason, and the inspiration for this post, is that today Lichfield District Council have (after I sent them a cheeky tweet) changed their “Local Newspapers” section to “Local Media” and included The Lichfield Blog. They’re even syndicating us! I’m still undecided as to whether to check the other 353 local government district web sites to see if Lichfield is the only one to do so…

Both of these also come after what I consider to be a huge compliment from Birmingham Mail who recently started syndicating us along with our friends, Tamworth Blog and local blogger, Brownhill’s Bob. I call this traditional and new media meeting and getting along nicely – aka a sneak peak into the future of local media.

I know this is just the start though. All this has been achieved with the only expenditure being less than £100 and the time of a small team of dedicated and passionate volunteers (I say only, but it takes a lot of time). With the extra help and support we’re hoping to get as part of our future plans it’s obvious to me that The Lichfield Blog is going to move on leaps and bounds.

I can’t wait!

* based on data from the Office for National Statistics.

Government asks for 2Mbps, Virgin offers 200Mbps

First, let’s forget those who don’t want broadband for a second and consider only those who have and use broadband services.

I’ll keep this short. How can the UK Government possibly think that asking for 2Mbps in it’s preliminary Digital Britain report is anywhere near acceptable?

Virgin, theoretically, can achieve 200Mbps with their fibre (aka FTTC) network. Though the actual speed is unlikely to be that high in reality, they do quote a minimum of 100Mbps downstream.

They’re still likely to end up beating BT to it in any case, completing their rollout by 2012.

It makes the Government look like a bunch of uneducated fools touting 2Mbps as the speed to have whereas thousands (if not millions) of homes already have twice that and will potentially, in the next 3 years have one hundred times that speed at their fingertips.

The Government is so far behind the curve it’s infuriating. How can we, as a country, possibly be innovative enough to compete on the world stage with that kind of attitude from Government.

So here’s my request to the folks in Whitehall: Stop spending money on a report that is about two years out of date before actually being fully produced and instead spend it incentivising companies like BT and Virgin to speed up their rollout.

I’m moving to San Francisco if you don’t.

Citizen journalism: Friend or foe to traditional media?

Recently I’ve become involved in a relative new project, The Lichfield Blog. As you may gather from the name it’s a blog, about Lichfield.

I’m really proud to be part of something that has such a switched on and engaged little team behind it.

It was especially gratifying to watch as the story of a fire in one of Lichfield’s pubs quickly made it onto the blog just 3 hours after the initial call to the emergency services. Obviously we were lucky to have one of our team walk past at the right moment with a camera phone – a photo quickly made it’s way on to Twitter and a few tweets later the post was up.

The blog’s creator, Ross, made a call to the fire service about the incident and learned that no-one else had picked up on the story yet. It seemed we had beaten the local media. Having seen other, more high-profile, stories break on Twitter that doesn’t surprise me but it did make me think about all this “newspapers are dead” talk.

The blog has a few hundred visitors now, which is great, but it’s never going to kill the newspapers in Lichfield. I wouldn’t want it to either – there are plenty of people throughout the world, not just in Lichfield, who like to read a paper.

So the question isn’t, “are newspapers going to die?”, but rather “how can newspapers use citizen journalism?”

A good example is the Pancake Race in Lichfield. Nick Brickett has been providing photography for The Lichfield Blog, his first assignment being the traditional Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race. His photos of the event made their way onto the Express & Star web site (ironically, as I write this, said web site is down!)

This could be the way journalism is going. Another great example is Channel 4 News (who my Twitter followers will know full well I admire).

Their coverage of the Schiphol plane crash was very much driven by Twitter. I sat in front of Tweetdeck and watched it all unfold in front of my eyes, from them picking up the story, contacting an eye witness to putting a Twit on the lunch time news. It was a first for them and possibly for journalism in the UK.

Krishnan Guru-Murphy of Channel 4 News says that Twitter is “just another way of finding people and talking“.

I suspect some journalists will treat services like Twitter and citizen journalism in general as a threat rather than an asset. I’ve heard of publications shutting down because they just can’t sustain themselves for much longer (obviously the ‘crunch’ doesn’t help) but instead of shutting down, I believe they should adapt and grow with the times.

And let’s face it, it’s cheaper to do it online!

Do you think the internet is a threat to traditional media, or should traditional media adapt and embrace services like Twitter as sources for news?

I don’t want broadband, leave me alone!

There is a lot of buzz at the moment about broadband in Britain, mainly thanks to the Digital Britain report. I’m a firm believer in technology as a driver of innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation so I definitely see that as a good thing.

That said, I have a feeling it might be mis-directed. See, there’s this whole 2Mb broadband for every home thing being bounded around but as Ed Richards, head of Ofcom, said this week, not everyone actually wants broadband.

So why give it to them?

Instead of focusing resources on getting people who don’t want it to have broadband, why not spend that effort on enabling the innovative products and services that will make them want it?

Remember the early days of broadband? The days when local groups sprung up to come together to persuade BT to give them broadband? If people want broadband, they will demand it. Perhaps the Government should instead concentrate on making sure the infrastructure is there when they do.

Do you think Government could be focusing their efforts in a better direction? Do you believe they’re even doing enough?