If I had to choose just one newspaper, it would be The Guardian. That’s a rather archaic opening sentence in this age of digital plenty, including as it does the terms choose just one and newspaper.

But I remember buying the dead trees version. I particularly remember running in to the newsagents next to Edmonton (north London, UK) train station to get my Guardian before getting on the train to work.

Most of the time I lived in France, I subscribed to The Guardian Weekly, which included articles from Le Monde and the Washington Post as well as from The Guardian itself. The articles from Le Monde were translated into English, those from the Washington Post not so much.

I now live in Washington Post territory. I’ve yet to buy the Washington Post newspaper, and I doubt I ever will. I do have the Washington Post website bookmarked, and visit it often enough to get annoyed at the register/login hurdle.

I visit the Guardian online multiple times most days. I appreciate its openness, as well as its content.

So I am particularly interested in the Guardian’s open platform. I read about it in a couple of recent articles by Mathew Ingram at GigaOM. Lest it seem that Mathew and I are uncritically besotted with openness, I’ll choose this quote from the first of his articles.

The Guardian’s ownership structure — it’s owned by the Scott Trust — likely has something to do with the paper’s interest in an open API, and its willingness to provide its content to others despite the lack of any immediate return, since it can afford to think longer term rather than just focusing solely on quarterly earnings.

In other words, media owned via financial markets and other mechanisms of impatience would find it harder to do what the Guardian is doing. Here’s my favorite quote from Mathew’s second article.

Open APIs and open platforms aren’t all that new. But The Guardian is the first newspaper to offer a fully open API… We thought it was worth looking at why the paper chose to go this route, and what it might suggest for other companies contemplating a similar move… I explore the topic in depth in a new GigaOM Pro report (subscription required).

I love this quote because, even as Mathew writes in glowing terms about the openness of a 190-year-old newspaper company, he tells us that we need to provide a credit card to have full access to his coverage. This from GigaOM, cutting-edge new media property, running on open source software, etc.

See, I haven’t lost my British sense of humour. It’s that same sense of humour that allows me to smile rather than curse when I note that the Guardian’s site is misbehaving as I write this. It reminds me of the paper being formerly and fondly referred to as the Grauniad, because of frequent tpyos.

UK Has New PM

May 11, 2010

So, the United Kingdom has a new Prime Minister: David Cameron of the Conservative Party. The government is a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. I wrote just after the election that:

The Conservatives could form a government, with a majority, with the support of the Liberal Democrats. I think, and hope, that they won’t get that support without commitment to reform the electoral system toward proportional representation.

We still don’t have the details of the deal. When we do, I’ll post about them. If they include a firm step toward PR, then I for one will forgive Nick Clegg and the rest of the LibDem leadership.

I do have some regret that the LibDems couldn’t do a deal with Labour instead. But I think that the operative word is couldn’t. Such a deal would have required the support of all Labour MPs and of some of the other, smaller, parties, and that support just didn’t seem to be there.

Yesterday saw a General Election in the land of my birth: the United Kingdom. Here’s a snapshot, based on the Guardian‘s election coverage.

Britain’s parliament has 649 seats, each representing a geographic constituency. Here, for each party, is the share of the seats and the share of the vote (the 10 missing seats are those for which we don’t yet have a result).

  • Conservative: 300, 36%.
  • Labour: 255, 29%
  • Liberal Democrat: 56, 23%
  • Other: 28, 12%.

So, the Conservatives have more seats than any other party, but they don’t have a majority of seats, and they were nowhere near a majority of the popular vote. The Liberal Democrats have a far greater share of the popular vote (more than a fifth) than of the seats (less than a tenth). That’s because of the UK system, in which there is a winner-take-all race for each seat.

The electoral system is bad at representing the popular vote. It’s usually “good” at making it clear who’s in power, in that usually either Labour or the Conservatives has a majority of seats. That hasn’t worked this time.

The Conservatives could form a government, with a majority, with the support of the Liberal Democrats. I think, and hope, that they won’t get that support without commitment to reform the electoral system toward proportional representation.

The Liberal Democrats did hope that this would be the election in which they gained a significant number of seats even without electoral reform. Now they hope that it will be the election after which they can bargain for electoral reform. In subsequent elections, their popular vote would be reflected in seats – and produce more “hung parliaments,” alliances, and so on.

Proportional representation is my hope also. For that, and for other reasons, I’ll be particularly interested in UK politics over the next few days.

Stream of Keyboardness: UK

August 19, 2009

Has there ever been a better name for a political party than the Official Monster Raving Loony Party? Or a better name for a candidate than Screaming Lord Sutch?

Maybe the above is rather too British for most of my readers. But, dear readers, if you ever see a candidate named Loud Viscount Watson, it will probably be me. That is the only name under which I will ever run for political office.

I was reminded of the Loonies by Moody. Glyn of that ilk posted about the UK Pirate Party. Said pirates hold the radical notion that “when creative works are sold, it’s the artists who [should] benefit.”

It seems that some Members of (the UK) Parliament have been rather… irregular in their expense claims. In order to investigate the expense claims thoroughly, it is necessary to trawl through hundreds of thousands of documents.

The Guardian decided to crowdsource the trawling, by setting up a web site with copies of expense documents and an interface allowing visitors to classify each document. Michael Andersen at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab presented four crowdsourcing lessons, based on an interview with Simon Willison, who developed the web application.

Two of the lessons are psychological:

  • your workers are unpaid, so make it fun
  • attention is fickle, so launch immediately.

The other two are technical:

  • speed is mandatory, so use a framework
  • participation will come in one big burst, so have servers ready.

Note that the technical reasons follow on from “attention is fickle.” The framework was Django, and the servers were in the cloud, at Amazon’s EC2. Glyn Moody remarked that open source made this crowdsourcing project feasible. I’ll be more explicit (or perhaps more glib) and remark that this is an example of open source serving the cause of open government.

Is this an example of citizen journalism? It’s certainly an example of investigative journalism, with much of the investigation done by citizens.

There’s a lot of very good TV for kids. I’m not saying that just to comfort my parent-self, but also because of most of the kids TV shows on WGBH TV: Word Girl, Arthur, etc.

When I think back to the TV I saw as a kid, my fondest memory is of Noggin the Nog. Oliver Postgate wrote and told the stories, while his partner Peter Firmin did the visuals. If I had to explain why storytelling is so wonderful, I’d play the introduction to Noggin.

Let’s enjoy some Noggin together now, and then meet again after the video in for more Oliver info.

Oliver just died, at age 83. I found out his death via Nicholas. The BBC obit emphasizes some of Oliver’s other creations, such as Bagpuss and Ivor the Engine, but it is for Noggin that I will always remember him. I don’t think he’d object to my use of the Brit expression to pop one’s clogs.

That’s the comment I had to make when I saw an article about the British government’s intention to ban samurai swords. I saw the article thanks to reddit, and am able to use the photo thanks to mpmbm.

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