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Posts tagged with: Social Media

A life without Google. It’s harder than you think.

2568436053_a9734f5d0d_zSo I am in China for a week. I will write about the wider politics of the place when my time here draws to a close, but for now I will focus on just one aspect: what China’s block on Google tells us… about our use of Google.

China blocked access to Google services before the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen uprising, and it seems that things have not improved since. On my laptop I can access no Google services through my web browser at all. The only thing that works is Gmail via IMAP (web interface is also blocked). Twitter and Facebook are also blocked, but I do not actually need those as urgently, or they are not as central needs. Dropbox not working is a pain, but for a week I can live without it, as I use it mostly for my own files anyway.

So I can live without Google Search, right? Indeed that’s actually the easiest part. I have added DuckDuckGo to my browser and it works fine. Bing.com is just about passable if I need it. The interesting thing here is how I have become so used to browser address bar search – after years of doing just that, going to a website for search felt really odd.

The next challenge was maps. I have used nothing but Google Maps for a good few years, so what’s the best bet for a replacement? Turns out that the search on Bing Maps is rubbish unless you use the Chinese characters. So here Apple Maps (and indeed the Maps app in Mac OS that I’d even forgotten existed) has turned out to be a fair substitute.

Then what about calendars? I use Google Calendars for a bunch of collaborative projects (I don’t use these for my own use), so those I will have to live without for now. Were I to be in China more often I would have to find an alternative, as would businesses doing China – non China collaborations.


Then, to my surprise, there is Google’s Font APIs that are increasingly heavily used, even in open source software – including WordPress that powers this blog. Yes, pages will load without these fonts, but browsers keep on trying to load the APIs, and slow down the loading of pages.

Last but not least, and rather central when in China as I do not speak Mandarin, is Google Translate, which is also built into my browser. Baidu’s translation tool is useless as its interface is just in Mandarin (unless I am missing something), so Pons is basically my only option.

So the conclusion is this: while Google makes the argument that provision of web services is a free market, and that anyone can switch to alternatives, we nevertheless find ourselves so dependent on Google as a matter of habit that those habits are damned hard to break.

If you want one of the placeholder Twitter accounts I’ve registered, here are a few things to bear in mind

I was an early adopter of Twitter, and have been using it for political purposes ever since. Throughout that time I have conducted all sorts of experiments with Twitter, and registered dozens of Twitter usernames for numerous purposes over the years.

One of these experiments was to make unofficial accounts for all Danish government ministries on Twitter, back in April 2013. These accounts were all automated, tweeted news from the Ministries, and clearly stated in the biographies that the accounts were unofficial.

Something has recently started to change in Denmark though, as 4 Ministries have contacted me in the last few weeks to ‘officialise’ their accounts. The first of these – Kulturministeriet @KUM_dk renamed to @Kulturmin – has now gone live.

The process to officialise the account was however far from ideal.

I received a stern e-mail from their Comms guy, telling me the account was a “problem” (why only now is this a problem, I answered, as the account has been tweeting for 12 months?) but agreed to hand it over to them. At no point in my e-mails exchanged with them was the word ‘thanks’ used once from their side, and the newly-renamed and officialised account has not tweeted anything about the process to say it is now official. I’ve delivered them a starter-following of 110 people, for free, and helped out. As I have made clear here I will of course not demand any payment if people want access to any of these accounts I happen to have registered.

Further, if they had been friendly towards me, I could have happily sent some of my 10000 followers towards them too. But no, by being unfriendly they can have this blog entry berating them instead.

How Neelie Kroes’s rant about Düsseldorf Airport wifi shows she really understands political social media

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 13.39.09I can just imagine the scene. Neelie Kroes is sat at Düsseldorf Airport waiting for her flight, tries to get online, and turns to Ryan Heath or Jack Schickler or some other member of staff travelling with her, and with that mix of steel and mischievousness in her eye she says something along the lines of “How dare they charge €6 for an hour of wifi? I’m not having that!”

Her experience is the sort of thing regular travellers encounter all the time. It’s surely also something that the other Commissioners capable of using a smart phone also have encountered. But unlike the rest of them, Kroes connects her everyday experience with the politics of the matter and actually seeks to do something. It’s the same sort of motivation that has driven dozens of blog entries and tweets of mine over the years.

She first tweeted this:

This has been retweeted 834 times at the time of writing, and covered by The Local and Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.

She then follows it up with an effort to crowdsource good and bad experience:

No doubt the next step will be to write a blog entry with a kind of league table of the best and the worst. Of course this is non-legislative, but it is a political issue, and Kroes’s understanding of political social media connects all of the pieces together effectively. More Commissioners should follow her example.

[UPDATE 1820]
I’ve been pointed towards a WSJ Germany blog about the same subject, and there is also now a blog entry on Neelie’s blog that summarises the responses, very kindly also linking to this blog entry of mine.

Time for some policy-based evidence-making – how the Jacques Delors Institut Berlin ought to work

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 12.54.15Back in my days as a civil servant one phrase dominated UK government-speak: evidence-based policy-making. The essential idea was to gather adequate evidence about a problem, and how various solutions could work, and determine a policy choice based on that. Now of course this was constrained by the ideology of the government of the time, but it should have meant that reports should not have been suppressed higher up the political chain, Theresa May style.

But a think tank is not a governmental institution. The nature of a think tank is to be partial, to push a particular agenda. Yet if anything is to separate a think tank from a pure lobby organisation is that it should have some sort of evidence for its assertions. In essence it needs to reverse the phrase above – to practice policy-based evidence-making.

This is what Open Europe has been doing in London for ages, and has more recently tried to start to do in Berlin. It has an essential line – that the EU should be more market-orientated, less regulated, and that EU-wide democracy cannot work, and that the EU must essentially be intergovernmental and based on the notional democratic accountability of its Member States. Open Europe then dream up things – reports, tables, quotes – that work towards this end, and because they style themselves as a think tank and are clever and consistent in their communications, the media – in the UK at least – laps it up. Their table about Merkel might have been inaccurate, or their recent piece for The Local Germany not exactly accurate, but they persist and they succeed nevertheless.

But now in Berlin, with a big launch event next week*, there’s a new think tank dealing with EU matters in Germany’s capital: the Jacques Delors Institut. It’s the German office of the Paris-based Notre Europe. My old friend Bernd Hüttemann tweeted that Open Europe “is not the only campaigning non-Germany think tank in town now”. I would quibble with the implication that there are even German campaigning think tanks in Berlin, but Bernd’s point that the Jacques Delors Institut could become a campaigning think tank would be very welcome. We have plenty of evidence about the problems the EU faces, but little in the way of pointed, media-savvy work to set the political agenda in a way that strengthens the EU, rather than seeking to limit or unravel it.

So what should the Jacques Delors Institut actually do?

Firstly, it needs an agenda that can stand alone, and that this agenda needs to be simple and positive. That economic integration in the EU works, and that it is a balance of free markets and regulation. That intergovernmentalism does not work. That EU-wide democracy is possible and desirable. Nothing that it should does should distract from these aims. Everything it does should be digestible for a half-knowledgeable policy maker or politician – it should not be excessively academic.

Second, unlike much of the traditional pro-European establishment, it should specifically not focus on populists, nationalists or extremists. We have plenty of critique of why UKIP / Jobbik / AfD / Grillo (delete as appropriate) are wrong. What we do not have are positive ideas for reform that come from the responsible centre. The Jacques Delors Institut needs to set its own course, not mirror or become embroiled in fights with the likes of Open Europe.

Third, it needs the very best multi-channel, multi-language communications strategy. It needs to understand the interplay between traditional and new media, and how the latter can shape the mainstream media narrative. In this context it needs to have strong characters who can shape a debate, and become known. Henrik Enderlein, the boss of the Institut, has a good academic record as far as I can tell, but his web comms leave a lot to be desired! Is he someone you can put up against Mats Persson in a debate?

So that’s how it could work. If it doesn’t do that then the Jacques Delors Institut will end up grouped together with a bunch of other pro-EU think tanks of questionable use.

[UPDATE 1425]
Christopher Howarth from Open Europe has rather delightfully proven my point with this tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 14.25.10


Nowhere in this blog entry do I say the pro-EU side is engaged in evidence-based policy-making, and indeed in the very first paragraph I allude to my cynicism of the whole concept anyway. So take someone’s words and twist them for your purposes – yes, that’s Open Europe.

* – I have been invited to the launch and will tweet it using the event tag #voice4eu, and know one member of staff at the Jacques Delors Institut. I have no professional affiliation with them.

The power of a title to make a picture go viral: “Politicians discussing global warming” by Isaac Cordal

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 10.37.11


For the last 5 days the picture shown above has been shared far and wide on Twitter (link to the tweet), and to a certain extent on Facebook too. The title “Politicians discussing global warming” and the stunning picture match perfectly. I too was one of the people who retweeted the tweet a few days ago.

Then I thought “Ooh, it’s in Berlin, let’s find it!” But Googling it just found websites talking about the tweet. It prompted me to wonder whether the picture was indeed real, and some debate among friends of mine – including some Berlin residents – on Facebook ensued.

Determined to get to the bottom of it, I downloaded the picture, and ran it through “Search by image” on Google’s image search. Hey presto, the original picture – from the artist Isaac Cordal’s photo stream on Flickr. But with one important difference – the original is entitled “electoral campaign”, and while it was in Berlin it was from 2011! You will not find it today on Gendarmenmarkt as far as I know.

The interesting conclusion here is that the picture, with the title “Politicians discussing global warming” as tweeted above, is immensely more powerful than entitled “electoral campaign”, and that is the reason for its reach now as far as I can tell. I wonder whether it was Nigel Britto who first applied that title? Anyway, it’s an interesting little case!

(thanks @benteka and @ManagerYin for contributing to my thinking that informed this blog entry)

I was @JC_Juncker. Lessons for Twitter, and for political social media too.

Just over a week ago, as the EU Twittersphere was starting to turn its attention to the EPP’s Dublin Congress, I wondered what presence – if any – Jean-Claude Juncker had on Twitter. None was the answer. So on 2nd March, at 2117 CET, I registered @JC_Juncker, a spoof Twitter account. This screenshot of the confirmation e-mail from Twitter confirms the time of the registration.

The profile of the account looked like this:


The screenshot is from Tweetbot on my iPhone, but you get the idea. The cover picture is an overflowing ashtray, alluding to Juncker’s well known smoking habit. The biography is clearly not serious. This is obviously not an official account – it is a spoof.

So then, just over 2 days after creating the account, and having followed 800 people, and having amassed 300 followers, the account was suspended by Twitter on Wednesday 5th March, sometime in the late afternoon, and remains suspended. I do not know when exactly the account was suspended, as I received no e-mail notification of the suspension. I filled in the form on Twitter’s website as fast as I could, requesting the suspension be overturned (screenshot of the e-mail confirming this request was submitted is here).

Since then I have heard nothing from Twitter. The account, I admit, does not fully comply with Twitter’s parody policy, but I have had no opportunity to add “parody” to the username to make it clear the account is not real as Twitter would demand. Further the account has now been suspended for more time than it was actually running, and this leads me to smell a rat – how did someone manage to get the account suspended so fast, while I am still awaiting a response from Twitter to my appeal? The Twitter parody page very clearly states “We process complaints in the order in which they are received” – in this case this has clearly not been respected.

Does the fact that Twitter had a stall at the EPP Congress in Dublin have something to do with it I wonder? Does having the right connections to Twitter allow you to bypass the official policy? If we are to trust Twitter as an impartial platform for political communications then it should not be possible to use connections to bypass the policy – I do hope this is just an oversight from Twitter in this case. I will update this post once I know more.

Merkel in London – a case study in political tweeting

Angela Merkel spoke in London earlier today, and – as could have been predicted in advance – it was one of the most interesting political stories of the day in UK and indeed EU and German politics. A BBC story with all the background can be found here.

Such events of course are now accompanied by live commentary on Twitter, today mostly on the hashtag #Merkel. Here are some of the key tweets, and explaining what they each show.

The “the speech in a tweet” tweet
Congratulations to @olafcramme here. This, sent within seconds of Merkel having spoken the words, summed up the whole speech. Nailing it so clearly and so quickly takes skill, and 47 Retweets is the least it deserved.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 21.32.38

The amusing but nevertheless political tweet
Some amusement never goes amiss when you’re trying to maintain your concentration through minutes of impenetrable prose. Here @lukereuters managed the tweet of the day (210 RTs), likening the Cameron and Merkel on the sofa to an IKEA catalogue. Guido Fawkes followed up with analysis of the DVDs behind them.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 21.34.13

The “what does all this mean” tweet
Not all summed up in the tweet itself admittedly, but the title of the piece is neat – this tweet by @kosmopolit drew my attention to this piece from @jeremycliffe at The Economist that, in its short and succinct way, summarised many of the issues at stake in today’s speech.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 21.42.08

The person who’s actually there, providing context
While the speech was live-streamed, the later press conference was not (or at least I was not aware of it). But @DavidCharter was there or somehow watching, providing context on Twitter, and was ready to follow up if you asked him questions.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 21.35.29

Those were my highlights of following the Merkel speech on Twitter. Anything interesting I missed? If so do comment below, or tweet me – @jonworth.

[UPDATE 28.2.2014]
Some of this is also featured in Tweets of the Week from viEUws.

If you want Twitter your way, use a third-party Twitter client

I’m growing rather tired of loads of complaints on Twitter… about Twitter. Redesigns, changes to the chronological listing of tweets, pictures appearing in-stream by default are common complaints I keep on reading. This has prompted analysis, and even odd browser-based work arounds.

Why is all of this so annoying? Because the solution is both simple and right. Use a third-party Twitter client to access Twitter, and the problems go away (for now at least – more about that below).

What do I mean by a third-party Twitter client? Essentially a software utility to access Twitter that is not run or developed by Twitter itself. This means that the utility is designed to give you, the user, control over what you see, and not let Twitter Twitter’s advertisers determine that for you. Twitter’s own apps, and Tweetdeck, are no good as these are run by Twitter.

You need to sign up for an account with Twitter, which itself has now become more complicated – you need to use the mobile signup to avoid having to download an app – and then use the login details in a third-party app.

So what are your options?

On Mac: I absolutely swear by Tweetbot. Buy it. It may cost £13.99 but it’s worth it. Multiple column views, no ads, elegant interface, stable, list management, super mute filters (don’t like XFactor or the Daily Mail – gone!), and sync with its iOS counterparts. Alternatives are Osfoora, Janetter, Hibari and Echofon.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 12.00.28

On Windows: Here it’s a little more complicated, but try Yoono or MetroTwit. It seems that both Echofon and Janetter have problems on PCs at the moment.

On Linux: Yoono, Choqok, Birdie or Polly.

On iOS: Tweetbot, Übersocial, Tweetlogix, or Janetter.

On Android: Übersocial or Janetter.

On Blackberry: Übersocial.

There is also the web-based Hootsuite, although I have always found its interface too clunky for personal use. The list above is also not exhaustive – do suggest additions, amendments in the comments.

So what’s the problem with this?

Twitter became big in the first place because the platform was great in two interlinked ways – users felt they were in control of what they saw, rather that Twitter controlling that (on Facebook it has always felt like EdgeRank controls you), and the dozens of software utilities that sprung up around Twitter meant everyone could find something that suited them.

But that sort of network is not easy to monetise, as it is relatively simple to avoid advertising. This explains Twitter’s quest to restrict third party apps, and force its users (and especially new users) to use its own apps. So while you may be able to use Tweetbot or Janetter now, there is no guarantee that this will persist for ever more.

So download your third party app now. Persuade as many of your friends as possible to do the same. And then the user base of these apps will be considerable enough to make sure Twitter cannot close them.