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Educational and important – the Joy of Stats

December 14, 2010

Have a close look at the graph here. Can you see how much the budget deficit is (thanks bankers)? Don’t forget to add the various bail-outs.  Have a look at how much Trident is supposed to cost compared to, say, schools or local government. It’s all the more shocking isn’t it, for understanding their relative size properly.

I became aware of this from a show on BBC4 called The Joy of Stats. I really recommend you watch this in the next few days. Or, if you can’t, pray that it comes out on DVD and buy it.

Quite apart from the delightful visualisation of data and the demonstration of Hans Rosling’s own ‘Gapminder’ application, there is so much to learn about world health, language, communications more generally and (not surprisingly) statistics.

I tried statistics and I didn’t like them. Even Bodo Schlegelmilch couldn’t really make it painless. But Hans has at least enthused me again to have another go.

The BBC4 show is here. You can play with Hans’ Gapminder at and there is this particularly telling example shown above as well as the We Feel Fine project which we’ve blogged on before.

Have fun.

More on the lack of impact of education

December 7, 2010

More on the lack of impact of education on social mobility?

Could I disagree with Tim B-Lee?

November 23, 2010

Click here to read the Guardian article

The Guardian just reported Tim Berners-Lee’s concern that the web could be evolving into something less desirable.

He suggests that Facebook and similar are creating walled ‘gardens’ around information that doesn’t really belong to them.

The sense is, of course, that a Facebook “friend” can’t easily be contacted any other way, unless you establish enough of a friendship for them to give you another email address or maybe twitter name.

For some this just isn’t a problem. The news that Facebook will offer all the messaging you need will be welcome.  On one of our courses at Greenwich, we read about just how involved people are with online environments – look at Edward Castronova (and here) or Danah Boyd. The we realise our students are even more committed, but not wholly defined by that commitment.

But this potentially ‘one way’ street of data, at first, seems to be a problem. I’m told. though I’ve never tried it, that you can’t easily extract your data from Facebook. So whatever you’ve contributed belongs there – or (again according to some) it belongs to Facebook itself.

But the ethics and law of communication are always fraught. The law of copyright doesn’t help much and the principles of data protection boil down to a check box (“Do you agree we can do anything we want to with your data? Tick here or don’t use our service”).

Okay, so we all enter into the contract and try and manage our privacy settings, if we understand them.

The point here though is to think of where we are now and the direction we’re going.  Facebook  and others (some commentators have mentioned the closed nature of the Apple platform) thrive on third parties creating ‘apps’. You all know what they are.

So the resolution of this is that somewhere out there a clever little so-and-so is writing an app that does what Facebook does but without getting sucked into someone else’s plan for world domination. This (imaginary) app may simply set up ghost Facebook accounts and dip in to find people; connect; present you with an interface to control your involvement and, at the press of a button delete any evidence of your having been there. It’s theoretically possible for the app to select and implement a  nom de souris for you – that you needn’t even know.

Ah, you say, but Facebook would then block that app. Yes, they would.

And our public spirited developer would be happy to create a playground where all his apps could happily associate, each one with its secret handshake for people you know.

But, but, but. Social networks go beyond people you know already. They go to people who know people you know. These are formally or informally introduced to you by intermediary friends (As Linked in does it its slightly clunky, big brother way) so, you could grown networks in this new site.

The point is that, unlike Facebook, this new (Faceless book?) would be a distributed network such that no owner could have a view of the whole or even extract information unless it was freely give.

Problem? yes. The same one that Facebook itself has, and will have in the future. The real reason why they (and every other network and even the Times Online) build walls around customers is that they want to be able to generate revenue.  make it free (or virtually free) at the point of entry and then sell the ad space is one way. Sell subscriptions is another (Mr Murdoch wants to do both, greedy b~).

Interestingly Mozilla, that beacon of useability and freedom have announced they may be launching a mobile app store.  There could be a market for an app that does exactly what Facebook does – and even recruits from Facebook, but without holding onto any of your data. And think of the incentives for Google and others to show they are more open than FB.

So, who would pay for a Facelessbook account? Hands up? Or you could email me. Or I’ll see you on Facebook.

We need to think about this

November 8, 2010

Apart from being a beautiful video; this is an important issue – not of passing importance, but fundamental to our future and, especially, the future of children now.
Unless we crack it, we will slowly (or maybe quickly) drown under the tide of dissatisfaction of our children. And, as they become adults…they will lack the ability to change things.

Does that sound over-dramatic? Maybe, but most of us know from our experience (especially if we have children) that the positive outcomes of education are, in fact, coincidental to formal education itself. Timetables are ‘filled up’ with a standardised curriculum, then we find time for pleasure or leisure outside of classroom time.  And these are the things that make the difference to us and our children.

It’s also true for tertiary education where young people drift towards a subject and (sometimes) a career, almost unconsciously – certainly only partially engaged. I have to say that I think narrow specialisation perpetuates this too.

If anyone knows of any practical prescriptions or manifestos to change education, then let’s hear them

You can find out more about Ken Robinson’s ideas on his website

Graffiti online, as you work

November 8, 2010

This has the beginnings of a groovy idea. It seems to add the shareability of or TinyUrl links with intuitive note taking.
Trying to demonstrate it though is a bit difficult (or maybe it’s just me and my PC). The dinky little plug-in selection tool seems to get stuck so I can’t easily switch between shapes or, indeed, switch it off. There’s also a bit of a conflict with other clipping-type apps – if you want to copy or clip just part of a page.
And how do you delete or amend scribbles once you’ve done them – and maybe made a mistake?
I think this could be great for iPad users but the rest of us may struggle.

Here’s an example of a shared mark-up link –

Social Marketing: what would CocaCola do?

October 6, 2010

#SocialMarketing: what would #CocaCola do?

A quick glance. Slow down.

September 10, 2010

One of our interests is Social Marketing which is becoming increasingly recognised as a field in its own right.  There are great resources at the National Social Marketing Centre here.Click for the story

Social Marketing, to those needing clarification, is the application of marketing tools and techniques to social objectives.  It’s not, as you might be led to believe by a Google search, to do with promotion through online social networks which logically should be called ‘social network marketing’.

All that aside, the core of social marketing is developing ways of changing people’s behaviour from  socially ‘undesirable’ to socially desirable. So that means gaining insight into how and why people are making the decisions they are making right now.

The classic examples (and those most written about in academic marketing) are smoking and taking exercise with perhaps alcohol abuse coming in third. But speeding and all kind of driving related behaviours are also targeted.

The problem is that we all know (personally) that simply setting a speed limit and putting in place legal sanctions, for example, doesn’t make us drive legally. Designers of signage and road layouts are constantly working on ways to make drivers pay attention and modify their driving behaviour  – witness those motorway signs that remind you to pull over for a break.  Possibly the most direct (and reviled) ‘behaviour modifers’ are speed bumps and speed cameras but quite radical ideas such as  the complete removal of  the separation between car and pedestrian have also been tried.

For what it’s worth, I think these latter, so-called ‘Shared Space’ schemes offer the best chance of long-term changes in driving behaviour (you can read the UK Dept for Transport assessment here) because they irrevocably change the nature of driving. Of course there are costs (slower journeys for drivers) and risks (largely to pedestrians as they are more vulnerable) but there could also be ancillary benefits. The reduction of the car ‘s advantage in towns and cities will add extra motivation for people to choose (possibly more sustainable) public transport and, thereby, increase the demand for good public transport. Another positive social outcome you might believe.

It all illustrates that Social Marketing is arguably rather more complex than conventional ‘product’ marketing. And this image, from Canada, illustrates that well-meaning marketers (though not social marketers) often miss the point.

This 3D child will have an effect on drivers. But what do you think the effect will be? And for how long?

Hello me old china!!*

August 25, 2010

Phil just got this in the post today. We’re not sure how many are being printed but look forward to hearing from Chinese-speaking readers.
We’re also hoping it will be available in the UK and Europe for Chinese students and business people.
Phil is now thinking he should do a book promotion tour to China!?
It cheered him up no end!

*Cockney rhyming slang “china plate” = “mate”. Mate meaning friend. And it’s a ‘china’ plate because it’s pottery made using ‘china’ clay…which didn’t come from China, but was used to approach the quality of Chinese porcelain. I think.

Faceboot…backlash against the backlash against (etc)

May 26, 2010

Daily Mail on Facebook Privacy

I was going to write about the whole social networking, twitterish, facebooky stuff from the perspective of my current trip in Nantes.

I was going to try and put the whole, exciting new-media stuff into a different cultural context or la contexte culturel (?).

Then I saw this from Techmeme. Are Facebook users actually going to kick it into touch?

And this gave me a whole new context to culture…er a whole new culture…er…of contextualisation…I think.

What I mean is that there seems to be at least two opposite currents in the web world.

On the one hand there is a trend in predicting the demise of social networks – not in general, but some in particular – as our earlier post regarding Bebo (which is, frankly, on the ropes) and now this piece about Facebook. To be clear, this criticism of FB is not isolated – a simple Google or Twitter search should confirm that.  No, there are thousands, maybe more if you look at the membership of various FB groups, who want to protest about the way the site is going.

And on the other hand, there is a keen evangelism from, for example, the people salivating over the imminent delivery of their iPad. (This again from Techmeme..and the iPad is just about to arrive in the UK and France). And, speaking to other people in education – specifically in communications – there is still a low level of understanding of the digital future – at least outside of California.

Hence SciencesCom’s involvement in setting up and getting funding for SWIM.

But the point I wanted to make here was about the culture of uncertainty. There is a high level of skepticism about such technologies and such environments – or products, sites or services – the repeating questions about revenues contrasted with the seemingly endless appetite for the ‘early adopters’ to take up the latest version. This seems to me to be a genuinely new aspect of this technological revolution.

It seems that everyone (no, I know, not everyone) is involved in a conversation – in traditional media as well as online – about what good all this stuff ‘is for’…’is about’…’means’. The difference here is that there is a reflexive element that means that participation in that conversation has a chance of affecting the outcome.

Facebook is, no doubt, also taking part in the conversation – no doubt using Twitter as well – and will respond. Meanwhile there are even more ‘open source’ platforms that enable and encourage users to adapt and modify the environment in which they work and play.

My conclusion is that, regardless of the ostensible purpose of these various social networking platforms, the key to their survival and growth is to give users a sense of control over their involvement and therefore the extent to which they feel they are being sold to…or they themselves are being ‘sold’.

That’s not too difficult. But here’s the problem. If you want to attract investment and keep shareholders, you need to be able to explain the business model and forecast revenues. And if the ‘customers’ are in charge you can’t.

You could, I guess, turn the whole thing on its head and either-

a) get the investors to ask the users those questions such as “how many adverts do you want to see?”, “how many will you respond to?”, “how much will you spend?” en effect (as they say here) get the customers to express their value to investors through research and willing co-production of content

or b) just sell your company to the users. Not a bad idea – sign up for a Facebook account free…but pay $10 for a share. Who’s for a co-operative?

Local food, local marketing…no Tesco

April 26, 2010

The School of Artisan Food

School of Artisan Food

Just heard about this on BBC Radio Four. There is clearly a big need for the skills and enterprise to create thriving local markets for food that are essentially fresh and additive free and don’t consume great quantities of oil in their production (see this Energy Bulletin).

There is no doubt that the food industry is struggling – and retailers seem to squeeze the supply chain right the way back to the farmer.

Bit there is a deeper and more complex issue. Do consumers know what they want? Do they know the real cost of the food they eat? Then there is the question of food security; I’m told we import as much milk as we export – does that make sense? Only if the price of milk differs and we’re consuming the cheaper one.

School of Artisan FoodThe School, located in Nottinghamshire, is a good step forward that should probably be replicated regionally since it can help create a local, low-carbon food market which could be competitive with industrial food production.

It’s also a good example of education being both vocational and aspirational – worth asking the next government to fund I’d say.

I recommend you listen to this programme.

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