One thing I have noticed recently is the premium that small internet start-ups place on interacting with their users.
The multi-layered phone menu systems employed by big corporations has become a staple comedic joke. We have come to expect large corporations to be slow to respond to our questions and requests.
But most start-ups are very small. It is often one or two or five people sitting in their office, doing the coding and responsing to queries on the fly. In the past few days I’ve received quick and human responses from Medium, Marquee and IFTTT to my questions, and it makes me want to use their services all the more.
Meanwhile, an e-mail to ByPost last week, complaining about a difficulty I was having with the app, prompted a very quick out-of-hours e-mail response from the founder, Luke Heron. Interestingly, I was just about to download a competitor app to achieve the task at hand, but Luke’s prompt trouble-shooting response kept me loyal.
My virtual meeting with Sam has prompted a meandering journey through a few websites dedicated to the stylish presentation of text. I thought I would note the links in one place: first, merely to note the trend; and second because it will aid discussions with colleagues over how to present our own literary content on the fantastic PEN Atlas.
First: Medium is a relatively new site created by Twitter founder Evan Williams. Writers can create beautiful looking stories and essays very quickly. The site has the clean and spacious aesthetic that has become fashionable recently. Design led by the need for readbility and usability on tablets, mobile phones, while also providing a reading experience on desktop and laptop monitors that is easy on the eye. I was delighted that my request for an early-bird account was granted by Medium’s Director of Content, Kate Lee, and I have just uploaded a story to the site to try out the composition features.
Remember how I blogged about the Afgahni men and women who have acted as translators for British forces should be allowed asylum in the UK?
The Government has said that around 600 translators will be given the right to settle in Britain. That’s a bit of U-turn and its annoying that the media and the public had to mobilise on this issue… but at least the Government has now done the right thing.
Can remember the meetings where we planned package for Iraqi interpreters – glad government is honouring service of those in Afghanistan.
Last year I uploaded a collection of Victorian portrait photographs to a set entitled ‘Harriet Bennett’s Photo Album‘. Swollen with the sharing spirit of the Internet, I gave the images a permissive Creative Commons Licience. My hope was that they might act as a prompt or support for other people’s creative projects.
The first instance of this hope being realised is ‘Papercuts and Curses‘ by Sam Meekings. It uses my scanned image of a young and now anonymous aquaintance of Harriet Bennett to illustrate a story about a young adventurer. Sam begins his story with a liberating broadside against an old writing cliche:
The standard advice to those thinking of becoming writers is to write what you know. The fact that this is clearly the most ridiculous and restrictive piece of advice imaginable does not seem to put people off from repeating it again and again. Edward Gregory Charles was determined to follow it to the letter: with the pragmatism typical of the late nineteenth century, he made it his mission to fill up his mind with experiences.
After my panel discussion at the Liberty Conference, I stayed around to hear Joannah Lumley interviewed by Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.
Lumley was engaging and hilarious when recounting her famous lobbying of Phil Woolas on the subject of immigration rights for Gurkhas in 2009. She is a purveyor of a kind of Occam’s Razor form of political campaigning, scything through civil service obfuscation and demanding politicians stop delaying, and act. She says this is the reason why she would never go into politics herself – idealistic people with fire and passion are swallowed up, and begin to speak like apparatchiks.
Speaking first, my co-panellist Ian Dunt made a pertinent point about how the low financial barriers to free speech online are also the reason that online speech may be threatened. People do not need financial reserves in order to publish online – It is cheap and quick. However, this lack of money also means they are more vulnerable to being sued by those who do have money and power. The publishing divide is not between online/offline, but between those with lawyers, and those without.
I spoke about the recent prosecutions from remarks made on social media, and the fact that current laws include the word ‘offensive’ as a trigger for prosecution, which is open to abuse. I noted how the immediacy of social media messaging meant that immature political views follow you around long after they should have been discarded, but that Tweeting and Facebooking are forms of publishing and could never be cordoned off as some special type of speech that is subjected to different laws. Parents and teachers need to help the young ‘uns be savvier about what they choose to publish online. I finished by warning that we cannot take our free expression for granted when we use social media spaces that feel public, but are in fact owned by corporations with a profit motive to censor if it is in their financial interests to do so.
During the Q&A I also managed to slip in a few re-tweetables about the nature of free speech and ‘counter-speech’.
Turing was a mathematician and philosopher who cracked the Nazi Enigma code and invented electronic computing. He was also a homosexual, and was convicted of ‘Gross indecency between men’ in 1952. As a result he lost his security clearance, was subjected to chemical castration, and committed suicide when he was only 42.
This statutory pardon seeks to atone for the Government’s appalling treatment of a national hero.
Nevertheless, the idea of such a narrow pardon worries me a little. The implication seems to be that Turing gets a pardon because he achieved so much. But that should not be how the law and justice works. What about all those under-achievers and ordinary men who were convicted under the same iilliberal and unjust law? Why do they not get a pardon too?
Who drives our culture? Conventional wisdom says it is Hollywood. After all, it is the ﬁlm industry that produces the most highly paid artistes and the most visible ‘A listers’. Film is a visual medium and it churns out icons at a steady, lucrative rate. The four-hour Oscars telecast is beamed live around the world.
By contrast, the announcement of the Man Booker Prize does not even get its own TV slot in schedules. The announcement is allowed to interrupt the news broadcasts, but the analysis and reactions are made to wait until a scheduled bulletin and it’s never the lead story.
Film claims global relevance, whereas publishing is parochial. Film claims to be popular, whereas publishing is elitist. Continue reading →
The folk at the brilliant OurKingdom blog commissioned a piece from me on the next steps for Libel Reform. The crucial issue:
During the Parliamentary debates, the Government flatly rejected proposals to extend the Derbyshire principle to private companies spending taxpayers money. British citizens are therefore confronted with a looming democratic deficit. As private companies take over the running of prisons, waste collection, school dinners, care homes, and large swathes of the NHS, the space to criticise them is squeezed. By leaving the Derbyshire principle to the courts to develop further, the Government have introduced an unwelcome ambiguity into our public discourse, especially at the local level. It will be left to citizens to closely monitor how the big subcontractors behave in this area. Any hint that these corporations are stifling public criticism through use of the libel law must be met with a public outcry.
A few years agao, I blogged about the campaign to save the Iraqi translators who had worked for British troops in the country. Appallingly, the British Government refused to give them asylum, even though it was their work helping (perhaps, even keeping alive) British soldiers that had got them into trouble in the first place.
Via Aavaz, I learn that the British Government may now repeat this shameful episode in relation to translators working with British forces in Afghanistan. They want to give compensation, in lieu of asylum.
This really is not good enough. We have a duty to protect these people. Failure to do so would not only be a moral outrage – it would damage the reputation of British forces abroad and make it much harder to recruit local translators for future military operations.
Why does the British Government drag its heels on these ethical no-brainers? I worry that it is down to the confused debate about immigration in this country. Asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and illegal immigrants are all very different types of migrant, but they are all spoken of as similarly illegitimate and unwelcome. We cannot allow an immature debate at home to hobble our soliders working abroad.