Great use of Facebook Live by Lib Dem HQ

Kudos to the team at Lib Dem HQ for their smart use of Facebook Live video for Shirley Williams' speech on the referendum this morning.

Live video on Facebook is very new, but it's going to huge. It's the perfect platform for this kind of event; it's free, easy to use (you just need a mobile phone) and contrary to what so many people seem to think, you don't need to have a Facebook account to watch.

The video comes with a built in chat forum for viewers to discuss what they're watching and as well as live streaming the video, it gets automatically posted to your Facebook page afterwards and will be seen by many more people that way.

Perhaps most importantly, Facebook really wants live video to succeed, so they heavily bias their algorithm to show it to lots of people. During Shirley's speech the video hovered at around 400 live viewers. That might not seem like much, but if you did an event like that and 400 people showed up in person you'd be delighted. And of course, streaming in this way makes the event accessible to many people who could never attend in person.

The team deserve huge credit for moving so quickly to adopt this - it'll be interesting to see what else they choose to use it for.

You can watch the full video of Shirley's speech here.

 

Another reason Labour's election results are worse than you think

This morning the newly elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that, in order to win a general election, Labour needed to become a broader church, appealing outside its core support. 

He's right of course, and what he said this morning is a fairly clear attack on Jeremy Corbyn's political strategy, which is very much aimed at appealing to a fairly narrow set of voters. Cprbyn's supporters have jumped on last week's results as a demonstration that, at the ballot box, a Corbyn lead Labour party does much better than people predict. That's true insofar as they did do better than many predicted (albeit they didn't do well), but if last Thursday had been a General Election they would have done much, much worse. Here's why.

We know from Labour's membership figures and the rise of the Momentum group that Corbyn has been very effective at motivating those people who do agree with him to an unprecedented level of political engagement. For every one of the 200,000 or so members who have joined Labour since the last election there will be another ten people who haven't gone so far as joining but have been, to some extent, "activated" by Corbyn.  Politically activated people, as you would expect, are much more likely to vote than the average. That means that in low turnout elections like the ones last week (in many places the turnout will be half that of a General Election) those people form a disproportionately high segment of those who vote. I've no doubt that in some of the places where Labour were expected to badly and didn't, these people (many of whom wouldn't normally vote in a local election) had an big effect on the outcome. 

What I'm going to say next is somewhat obvious. In a General Election the turnout is much higher. Literally millions of people who pay little attention to party politics in the intervening five years come out and vote, largely on the basis of who they want to be Prime Minister. However well motivated Corbyn's army is, in a General Election they'll simply be washed away like a sandcastle by a tsunami of the generally middle class, slightly right of centre voters who have decided more or less every General Election since at least the 1980s. They stuck with Labour (more or less) from 1997 to 2005, a load of them then dabbled with the Lib Dems in 2010 before shifting back to the Tories in 2015, driven by the fear of the SNP and Ed Miliband. 

Corbyn's central thesis, that you can outnumber this group by building an alternative movement of mainly young & working class non-votes, is total bollocks.

I don't mean that as a political statement, it's just maths. Even if you did motivate every single one of those people, there just aren't enough of them to make the difference in a General Election.

So when Corbyn's supporters point to what happened this week as evidence that his strategy is "working" they're being hugely ignorant of quite a simple electoral reality: turnout matters.

Twitter just killed its own product. Here's how.

After months of speculation Twitter has confirmed that it will, despite much protest from users, stop displaying Tweets in chronological order and instead use an algorithm to determine what to display.

The change is being sold as optional, at least initially, but make no mistake this is just the latest step in Twitter’s strategy to turn itself into Facebook.  It’s also the day Twitter, as a company, killed its own product. Here’s why.

Twitter’s strategy is based on simple logic. Facebook has more users than Twitter, therefore more people like Facebook than Twitter, therefore the way to get more users is to be more like Facebook. The strategy is so flawed that a five year old could pull it apart.

Firstly, even without delving into the detail, trying to be a direct competitor to Facebook is outstandingly dumb. Currently Twitter is a tangibly different thing to Facebook. By providing something different, users can (and do) use both. If I own a chicken shop, I don’t need to worry about the local estate agent stealing my business, because people can eat chicken and move house. If I then choose to get into the estate agency business, suddenly I’m fighting over the same customers, and I have to be a better estate agent than the other guy.

So by imitating Facebook, Twitter is moving from being a service you can use as well as Facebook to one that you have to use instead of Facebook. To do that you have to convince people (and their friends) that you’re a better option, and that’s tough, because Facebook is really good at being Facebook.

Secondly, by making these changes Twitter is at serious risk of pissing off the 300 million active users it does have. Twitter’s leadership, astonishingly, don’t seem to understand that the thing that makes Twitter distinctive, the place where it really comes into it’s own, is in real time information.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the raid that killed Bin Laden, the Superbowl or the final of The Voice, the one reason Twitter has become so central to the modern world is because it’s where people go to discuss what’s going on right now. They own that space the way YouTube owns video and Sellotape owns sticky back plastic.  Twitter is real time information, and this change, optional or not, is them taking their number one feature, the feature that is core to their business, out the back and shooting it. It’s a move so astonishingly stupid that it’s hard to comprehend.

So what is the future for Twitter? Well, there are currently over 300m people in the world who want a Twitter like  service. The service has also become essential for corporate communications and journalism, it’s where news breaks and where the tone of every subsequent discussion is set.

But does Twitter the company need to be the organization that delivers that service? No, absolutely not, and given how little IP Twitter actually own, replicating the service would be fairly straightforward.

All Twitter has is its brand and its scale. They’re formidable things, but brands do come and go, usually when they stop looking after their customers.

This strategy will, inevitably, fail. Millions of people are not going to abandon Facebook for a more Facebook-like Twitter. The only question is whether Twitter realize quickly enough and changes direction, or whether another company seizes the opportunity to provide the real time news and discussion service people actually want.

 

It's time for Everton to drop John Stones

John Stones is, without doubt, an immensely talented footballer. In fact, I think he’ll develop into the outstanding defender of his generation, not just in Britain but in the World. He’s that good.

He’s also young, and immature. That means he makes some bad decisions, some of the time, and some of those bad decisions cause problems. That’s to be expected and part of the price of developing young talent is watching them learn from those mistakes.

Today, he made a massive mistake that handed Swansea their first goal. Yes, Tim Howard is a moron with the reflexes of a recently deceased relative, but John Stones playing that ball in that situation was ridiculous.

Now I can cope with the mistake, because he’s developing, but what I can’t cope with is how Stones reacted. Firstly, for about twenty minutes, he sulked. He sulked like a spoiled child who knew he was in trouble but didn’t want to admit it. At one point he had the ball and actually stood still to moan at his teammates for not moving enough, which when you’re 1-0 down isn’t exactly the sort of “up and at ‘em” Dunkirk spirit that you’re looking for.

However that wasn’t the worst of it. After he’d finished feeling sorry for himself he spent the rest of the match trying to demonstrate to the assembled masses that he was in fact a prodigious footballing talent ™ and not, as it appeared to everyone present, a total bellend ™.

Every time he got the ball he tried to do something much more complicated than he needed to. Instead of heading clear he tried to chest the ball down, instead of playing a simple pass he played a tricky one. It was football-wank of the highest order and he was clearly doing because he felt he had a point to prove.

What John Stones needs to realise is that it’s a team game. He can look as good as he wants, but right now he’s part of a defence that has conceded 34 goals in 23 games. Only three teams (Leicester, Man City and Spurs) have scored more goals than Everton this season – if we could defend we would, and I’m even a tiny bit joking, be mounting a serious title challenge. He might be a world class talent, but there’s a difference between being good at football and being good at winning football matches. If John Stones was actually as good as he thinks he is, we wouldn’t be 12th.

Now a lot of heat has been directed at Tim Howard in recent weeks, and I agree with that, but Stones shouldn’t escape scrutiny either. He has directly cost us as many goals as Howard has (often by being out of position, which isn’t generally picked up by pundits), and in the end stopping the opposition scoring is the reason he’s on the pitch in the first place. The fancy stuff is a bonus.

I want him to play, I want him to take risks and I want him to develop into the player he can be. But right now, Everton, with the best squad we’ve had since 1987, are 12th in the league. Something has to change and with Jagielka coming back and Funes Mori hardly putting a well-gelled hair wrong, it’s Stones who has to go. For now.

A tale of two referees

Yesterday afternoon whilst Everton were playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge I was at AFC Wimbledon watching my second team, Mansfield, lose 3-1.

Just after half time at that game, with Mansfield leading 1-0, AFC Wimbledon equalised, or at least they thought they had. A pretty simple through ball cut the Mansfield defence in half and Wimbledon's Lyle Taylor scored - however it was clear to everyone that he was at least five yards offside, and despite that Wimbledon celebrate and Mansfield get ready to kick off again. But then the referee (Fred Graham, I name him here so he can get some credit for this) approaches the linesman. Now one of the joys of lower league football is that we were close enough to not perhaps hear exactly what they said, but we could certainly tell what they were talking about. The referee was asking the linesman if he thought that a Mansfield player had touched the ball on its way through, and he confirmed that he thought it had. The referee (correctly) knew that it hadn't and therefore the player was offside. He blew his whistle, gave the offside and ruled the goal out.

Now none of this mattered because literally thirty seconds later Wimbledon played another ball through to Taylor, this time well onside, and he scored again. But it was strong refereeing to rule that goal out in front of the home crowd, it would have been much easier just to let it stand.

Fast forward 52 minutes and travel a few miles north to Stamford Bridge. It's the 98th minute (of a supposed 97) and John Terry, clearly in an offside position, scores for Chelsea to make it 3-3 against Everton.

When I say clearly offside, I mean clearly: 

JT.jpg

A he's at least a yard off and a Premier League linesman, looking directly across the line, should spot that easily. In fact I've no doubt that he did spot it.

Now I want to be clear that I don't think the officials here were biased, I think they were lazy.

There was some confusion as to whether the final ball to Terry came from Oscar (in which case offside) or Jagielka (in which case not). From the referee's angle it would have been obvious, but the only possible explanation for why the linesman didn't give it is that he wasn't sure who it came off. He couldn't have been sure it came of Phil Jagielka, because it didn't, so at worst he needed to check with the referee, who will have seen clearly what happened, but of course can't judge the offside.

But it's the 98th minute, they're tired and it would be a really unpopular decision to make in front of a very emotional Stamford Bridge. So the referee, Mike Jones, and his assistant, Peter Kirkup, just don't bother.

The proof of this is in another little inconsistency. When Ramiro Fumes Mori had scored for Everton five minutes earlier he ran to the crowd to celebrate and was booked for his trouble. The referee, we're told, also added an extra minute on due to the celebrations. When John Terry scored he, again, ran into the crowd. But he wasn't booked, and no time was added on (the whistle blew literally the moment Everton kicked off).

So you have to either think that the officials are biased (which I don't) or that they just can't be bothered to do their job properly because, in the end, it doesn't matter. We know that the Premiere League don't actually sanction referees for bad performances and this crew will be out next week ruining another game in The Best League In The World (tm).

That's now sadly something that fans have to put up with, but it doesn't have to be that way. Next time the Premier League are looking for a referee to promote, they should give Fred Graham a call. 

Lib Dem New Year's resolutions number 3: start winning elections again

 This post is part of a series of 2016 resolutions for the Lib Dems. You can read part 1 on diversity here and part 2 on membership retention here.

Resolution 3: start willing elections again. 

I’ll start by admitting that the title of this one is a little unfair, because we do win elections. Most weeks there is either a local victory or a campaign team making real progress in a by-election. This is good news, but it masks a much larger problem.

Ten to fifteen years ago we could say, with confidence, that we had the best election winning machine in the country. We were renowned for it, and the string of by-election wins (albeit they were more than a decade ago) proved the point. Contrary to a line that is often pushed today, our opponents still had more money than us back then, but we were innovative, we tried new ideas and many of the things that are central  to our campaigns today were created in this period.

Today nobody could credibly claim that we have the best election winning machine in the country. We do have incredible people; the professional campaigns staff are first class, our volunteers as dedicated as ever and not once in the last few years have we stopped trying.

Our problem isn't effort, it's innovation.

The party developed a campaigns doctrine that was, almost literally, written in stone in the late 1990s and now cannot be questioned. I know first hand how aggressively the organisation sucks the oxygen out of new ideas. Innovation in the campaigns space has come to almost a complete stop, and any attempt to do anything that isn't part of our establish methods is aggressively resisted. Even the things we now do that will be pointed to as examples of innovation, such as targeted Facebook adverts, leave us lagging two or three years behind our opponents.

As was inevitable, other parties have watched us, copied us, caught up and moved ahead. Nobody could claim with a straight face that today we are an innovative campaigning organisation, so either you think that political campaigning is over as a developmental field and no further innovation is possible, or that things need to change.

The change we need is also much bigger than many people think. We don't just need to just stop killing new ideas at birth (although that would be a start), we need to develop a culture of innovation in our campaigning where trying new ideas becomes the norm, not the exception.

There are so many ways this could be done, without spending any extra money, simply by making the development of new techniques a part of our existing campaign spending. For example, the G8 campaign fund which gives grants to local campaigns could be biased towards projects which include testing at least one new idea where the result could be shared internally. It’s true that it’s hard to do properly controlled tests in an election, but it's not impossible. Making this one change would cost nothing but would result in at least a dozen new ideas being tested across he country in every funding round, and it would reward campaign teams who are prepared to try new things. Some would work, some wouldn't, but over time we’d all benefit.

Contrary to what is often said, the barrier to us being innovative isn't money, it's attitude. Our opponents will always have more money than us, so we simply have to be smarter and faster than them. Right now, we're not, but we have the people who are capable of doing it. In 2016 we need to start letting them innovate so by 2020, we can move ahead again. 

Lib Dem New Year's resolution number 2: Keep as many new members as possible.

This is the second post in a series of New Year resolutions for the Lib Dems. You can read the first one, on diversity, here. 

 Resolution 2: Keep as many “surge” members as possible

During the week after the General Election 20,000 new members joined the Lib Dems - on the Wednesday after polling day over one third of the party had been a member for less than a week.

It was a remarkable surge. To put it into context, during the “Cleggmania” surge of 2010 we recruited about 8,000 members in a couple of weeks, so 20,000 in just over four days is a whole level higher.

However, we’ll need to be much better at retaining them than we were in 2010 if we’re going to see any long term benefit. In 2011, when the Cleggmania members came to renew, we actually lost 120% of them, in effect almost everyone who had joined the previous year left plus some who had been members for longer. There are factors in our favour this time. Obviously, not being in Government helps, and the party's infrastructure is now much stronger. For example almost all of these new members joined either with a direct debit or a recurring card payment, neither of which we could do online in 2010. We also have a better incentive for local parties to retain members rather than just recruit them, and over the last couple of years the party’s average membership retention has increased significantly. All of these things give us a fighting chance of keeping the majority of the people who joined last May.

But of course we have to do more than just keep members through inertia. We need their energy and enthusiasm as activists and candidates, in developing policy and making their voice heard at every level. To get that we need to reconnect those members with the emotions they felt in May last year. They need to feel how they felt when they saw Nick’s speech, their passion for liberalism and to the feeling they had to do something to defend it.

I mention Nick deliberately because, as uncomfortable as it makes some people feel, his speech on that Friday caused more people to join the Liberal Democrats in one week than had done so in the previous five years. We cannot ignore the role he needs to play in getting them to stay now.

This will all be really, really hard – and it isn't just the responsibility of Party HQ to do it. Members will renew if  they feel like the vision they bought into when they joined is being fulfilled, and as much as the national party can help that, the real difference will come from local teams making sure that those new members are engaged in a way that makes them feel like they’re at the heart of the party, and not like some group of suspicious newcomers.

Lib Dem New Year resolutions number 1: Do something serious about diversity.

We might already be a few days into January but it's this week that 2016 really gets going. With that in mind I'll be sharing some ideas on what the party's priorities should be for the new year through this week, starting with our number one problem; diversity.

So without further ado. 

Resolution 1: Do something serious about diversity.

image.jpg

I'll start this with a supposition, or two. Firstly, that the fact that we have an all-white, all-male parliamentary party is simply unacceptable, represents a serious threat to our status as a national party and has to be dealt with. Secondly, that despite the best efforts of many fantastic people, our previous (and current) solutions to this problem have failed.

I suspect few people will disagree with the first point, more with the second. Even if you don't agree that we've failed, I suspect you'll at least agree that we need to do more. 

During his leadership campaign Tim Farron made a commitment to have a gender balanced slate of candidates in 2020, with 10% of those being from BAME backgrounds. It’s a good proposal, but it doesn't go far enough or tackle the real issue. The party is facing nothing short of a crisis, not just in terms of selecting candidates from under represented groups but in actually electing them.

In 2015 the party actually did OK in terms of selected a gender balanced cohort of candidates, not as well as it could, but the fact we have ended up with an all white, all male parliamentary party isn't because we failed to select any female or BAME candidates in winnable seats, it's because none of them won. The same thing happened in 2010, when half of the party’s target seats were fought by women but we ended up with only a tiny number of female MPs.

The reasons for this are complex, but if you look at the pressure and expectation that the party puts on candidates. it doesn't take long to see why the whole thing is totally biased towards middle class white men. For example, candidates are often expected to relocate at their own expense, to give up full time work for (at least) several months before polling day, to be able to give up family commitments and to have a network of high net worth donors who can fund their campaign. All of these things make it disproportionatly easy for middle class white men not just to get selected for seats, but to go on and win them. 

We must take action that results in us actually electing some under represented candidates, not just selecting them.

There are no shortage of options here, and some of them will be controversial, but carrying on the way we are is simply not acceptable. The leadership needs to be bold, and they must stand up to the usual voices who either directly argue against any change, or attempt to kill it by committee.

We also need to face up to the uncomfortable truth and centre of this issue; any real solution to our diversity problem will make it harder for middle class white men to get elected.

That, dear reader, is the whole point. We shouldn't pretend otherwise and, speaking as a middle class white man, those of us negatively affected need to take a second and reflect on all the accumulated advantages our gender, background and ethnicity have conferred on us up to now. Any steps the party takes will not "disadvantage" middle class white men, they will merely reduce by a fraction the huge advantage we carry with us daily.  We'll need to grow up and get over it. 

Also, a small addendum to this. As well as dealing with gender balance and BAME representation, we need to also do more to support candidates on lower incomes. There is no reason why a comprehensive solution can't be found to deal with that as well.

Anything we do here will be controversial and difficult, but it's essential. The fact that we're still having this debate in 2016 is humiliating, if we're still having it in 2020 it will be unforgivable.  

Edit: When originally posted this  stated that Tim Farron had committed us to 20% BAME candidates, the correct figure is 10%.

When did Liberal Democrats become so damned intolerant of each other?

So I'm now about three weeks out of an eight year stint working for the party. Not quite decompressed yet, I still miss all those useful meetings, but I am getting there. One of the downsides of being on the inside is that you inevitably stop experiencing politics in the round, and you don't tend to have time to get involved in anything that isn't part of the job. So since moving on I've enjoyed the change in perspective, and have tried to pay more attention to areas where I was previously compelled to maintain silence (don't panic, this won't last).

It's been interesting, as part of that, to take some time to read more of the views of other members across the party. Sometimes you agree, sometimes you don't, but it's always interesting to hear what people think.

Except, it would appear, that for many if our members it isn't.

When did we become a party of keyboard warriors? 

When did we become a party of keyboard warriors? 

By far the most worrying thing I've observed is just how intolerant many people are of any views that don't exactly align with their own.  I don't mean that they have a problem with the substance of their opponents argument, it's that they don't believe that their opponent has the right to hold an opinion at all, because they have in some way disqualified themselves. 

Usually these attacks are on the basis that their interpretation of what it means to be a Liberal Democrat is different, and that inevitably their opponent is in "the wrong party". There is also a new and disturbing expectation that members display a quasi-religious dedication to the exact wording of the party constitution, with no room for interpretation or, God forbid, evolution of the sacred text.

This is the same logic that the NRA use. We'd do well to remember that. 

Last weekend one of the editors of Lib Dem voice (a woman) was loudly admonished in public for daring to write a "review of the year" which did not fully take into account the views of one of her keyboard-warrior readers (a man, inevitably). After attacking the piece on Facebook he then tagged her in several comments and demanded she respond to him and explain herself. The idea that another Lib Dem had written something he didn't agree with seemed to send the poor man apoplectic. 

The cherry on the cake was someone stating they refused to read an opinion piece because the first paragraph contain a word they found offensive.

The word in question? "Centrist".

That's right, "centrist" is now an offensive term. That's like being offended by the colour beige, or Dame Judi Dench. It's just not credible.

The thing that links all of this nonsense is that none of it takes any issue with the substance of anyone's argument, it's all simply at attempt to undermine their right to have an opinion at all. It's at best ignorant and at worst sinister, especially from loudly self-proclaimed liberals.

I don't care whether you think the future of the party is in the middle-ground, equidistant from both Labour and the Tories or whether we need to reclaim our progressive roots from the bunch of Tory-infiltrators who dragged us through five years of Government. If you pay the membership fee and follow the rules you have the right to express your opinion. 

(As an aside, if you do believe that Nick Clegg & Danny Alexander are Tory moles who successfull executed a decade long conspiracy to destroy the party, then you're a fuckwit, but I'm not going to question your right to be a fuckwit).

What seems to be the most nefarious internal outcome of five years in Government is that all these bizzare little battle lines have been drawn, when in reality it's all so simple. Disagree yes, and argue, please, but if you ever find yourself questioning whether someone has the right to be a member of the party because they are saying something you don't like, just pause, take a deep breath and let it go. After all, if we're going to defend the right of people in wider society to offend each other, we have to be able to deal with being offended ourselves without trying to change the rules of the game all the time.

What's most ridiculous about this (or certainly what's next-most ridiculous after being offended by the word "centrist") is that it's of course all so pointless. Spending so much time tearing each other to shreds only helps our opponents, and with Labour determined to spend the next five years forming the world's largest circular firing squad, it's even more important that Liberal Democrats focus our time and energy on holding the Government to account in the most aggressive way possible. Otherwise if we're lucky we might just pull out heads out of our backsides for long enough to discover that the Tories have locked themselves into power for another generation.

 

 

It is simply astonishing that Jeremy Corbyn remains in post.

This evening in Parliament two things became clear. Firstly, the Prime Minister has the clear mandate he wanted to extend military action into Syria.

That's the big story, but underneath it is the quite astonishing situation the Labour leader is in.

 Make no mistake, today has been a disaster for Corbyn and his supporters.

For all the tweets, all the marches, all the threats of deselection, dozens of Labour MPs openly defied their leader. Amongst them was Hilary Benn, the shadow Foreign Secretary, who eviserated his own leader's arguments whilst Corbyn was forced to watch, stone-faced, and made the speech of the day in doing so.

Alongside Benn, in a move that is straight out of The Thick of It, Labour's chief whip Rosie Winterton didn't obey her own whip (she abstained, although was widely known to disagree with her leader).

The cherry on this Corbyn-crap-cake was this astonishing intervention from Labour Peer Jeffery Rooker. 

"My party leader cannot be accused, like the prime minister, of misleading anyone. He has never, to my knowledge, agreed to protect the realm, the British way of life, or western liberal democracies - and he won’t. We need to get rid of him before we face the electorate and have a leader fit and proper to offer themselves as our prime minister."

Of course Corbyn will remain in post, such is the power of Labour's expanded membership, but it's incredible that he does.

 

If this happened to Apple, people would go nuts...

CNN has reported an absolutely huge security flaw in the latest version of Andoid, Google's mobile operating system:

From the locked screen, open the phone’s “Emergency Call” feature. Type a few characters, then copy-and-paste the text repeatedly. The character “string” grows exponentially, so it quickly becomes close to 40,960 characters long.

Then open the phone’s camera app and prompt the phone to request a password. Paste the super long character string a few times until the system crashes. (Based on Gordon’s video, it looks like 163,840 total characters.)

Wait maybe five minutes, and the phone goes straight to the unlocked home screen.
— http://money.cnn.com/2015/09/16/technology/android-hack/

That might sound convoluted, but basically it means that anyone can bypass your phone's passcode without any technical knowledge at all.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News / Getty Images

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News / Getty Images

And that's not even the worst bit:

The patch is already available for Google’s own line of phones — the various Nexus models. But there’s no telling when it’ll reach Android devices made by Samsung, LG and others.

Translation: If you don't happen to have one of the 2% of Android phones that are made by Google, you're screwed.

Just imagine if there was a similar issue discovered with the latest iPhone and 95% of users couldn't access a fix even if they wanted to. The world would go nuts.

This photo is worth a thousand words, and they're all wrong.

Over the last few days I've seen this image of Syrian refugees charging their mobile phones pop up more and more across Facebook, accompanied by comments about how these people clearly don't really need our help at all.

The point being, it would appear, that owning a mobile phone automatically eliminates all the other problems you might face in life. I'm the proud owner of a slightly battered iPhone 5s and I can assure you this hasn't been my experience. 

It's obviously ridiculous to suggest that owning a $200 mobile phone means you are immune to the ravages of war, but that fact this image has been shared so widely points to a depth of the misunderstanding of what we're dealing with. 

There are people who can commentate much more eloquently than me on the causes of the refugee crisis, but it struck me that the frame of whatever debate we do have is solely economic, and that says a lot about us and the worldview we bring to the table. 

It seems that for many people the only plausible explanation is that these thousands of people are so poor, hopeless and generally damned that they're willing to take the enormous risks requires to cross our borders and get a slice of the rich, western, middle-class McLife that we all enjoy.  The fact that they have a mobile phone therefore automatically illegitimises any claim they have for our help. 

We've had this view reinforced to the point of exhaustion with the media insisting on using the word 'migrant' rather than 'refugee', and of course in our culture money is much more likely to be a source of distress than a shell landing in our back garden. So the perspective is understandable, but it's also wrongheaded.

This has all left us unable to do anything except frame everyone else's behavior as we frame our own - driven by economics and the quest for a more fulfilling (i.e. wealthier) existence. It's the only way to explain a behaviour that assumes because someone can own a $200 mobile phone they can't legitimately be facing any really serious problems, can they?

Great little bit of responsible Comms from MyFitnesspal

Like a lot of people I use MyFitnessPal to track my calorie intake and exercise. I've lost about 6kg since I started and it's helped get my BMI back into the green.  

One of the things MFP does is give you a future weight projection at the end of each day (e.g. If every day were like this you'd weigh X in five weeks). This obviously rewards eating less than you burn, which is sort of fundamental to weigh loss.

Earlier on I accidentally completed an entry too early, before I had recorded everything I'd eaten.  I got this warning:

Calorie warning screen on MyFitnessPal

Calorie warning screen on MyFitnessPal

This was really great to see. Rather than rewarding or praising people who are clearly not eating enough, the app warns them and provides simple, clear.

Apps like MFP are becoming central to so many people's lives, it's great to see them take the responsibility that comes with that seriously.

If websites don't like ad-blockers, they should learn to behave themselves

Ahead of the launch of iOS 9 later this month the debate about ad-blockers has started once again. Following the release iOS users will, for the first time, be able to install ad-blockers into Safari. Apple is not providing the blocking software directly, instead they're allowing developers to build "content filters" which sit in Safari as extensions. In theory these could be used for any purpose, but the primary use case if pretty clear. 

This has caused another round of hell and damnation from content providers who publish free, ad supported content on the web. This is of course understandable, ad revenue is their livelihood and ad blockers do real damage to that. Sadly however, they've brought this situation on themselves by hosting increasingly obnoxious and annoying adverts. I firmly believe that consumers don't object adverts per-se, if they did then Google would have never become the company it is, what they mind is adverts that are distracting, annoying or just get in the goddamn way.   

Exhibit A, this is the front page of The Guardian today, in full screen, before you do any scrolling,

Just stop for a second and look at that. I'm on the front page of a international newspaper and I have to scroll down to read the main headline. That's just ridiculous.  I haven't done the maths but I reckon over 50% of the content on that screen grab is a Samsung ad.

And of course The Guardian are by no means the worst example, many mobile sites now pop up ads that cover the entire screen on your phone, and of course there is my personal pet hate, sites taking one page of content and splitting it into a 12 page slide deck. There is a special circle of hell reserved for these people, I swear it.

The performance hit from ads is also astonishing, with  some sites like iMore.com loading up to 7x faster on mobile Safari with ad ad blocker installed. It is insane for any consumer not to use that technology.

At the moment the web doesn't have a better business model than ad-supported content, but that doesn't mean that the future has to be built of a thousand paywalls. Ads can be interesting, they can be relevant, they can be respectful of my privacy and they can, done well, nhance my experience. 

In the end the ad-publushers are always going to produce the most jarring, attention grabbing ads they can and in turn, consumers are going to block them. It's up to the publishers to protect their brand and their audience by making a stand for high quality, interesting and useful ads. Only then will we turn the blockers off.