Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Posts Tagged ‘Internet

Net traffic predicts hung parliament

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Perhaps Alex Salmond should look away now, but traffic to the official internet sites of the three main political parties looks eerily reminiscent both of the share of the vote going to each party, as recorded by recent opinion polls, but is also reflective of recent polling trends – up Labour, down Lib Dems.

Coming soon to you, i.e. in about five years time: Can’t be bothered to vote? Can’t drag yourself down to the polling station? Then let ‘apathy app’, our new app designed to assess your likely voting habits based on your surfing record, put a postal ‘x’ in that box for you…

Written by Calvin

05/05/2010 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Politics

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HADOPI leads to increased illegal downloading?

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Well, no – not really.

The BBC is reporting today a slightly old story that, following the introduction of the French ‘three strikes’ rule on illegal downloads, known as HADOPI, a small-scale survey has found that the incidence of illegal downloading rose by 3% in the three months to December 2009. (The story was originally run in Les Echoes on 9 March.) The ‘three strikes’ approach resembles the provisions on copyright protection in the Digital Economy Bill now going through the UK Parliament in that firstly an e-mail is sent; for repeated offences there is then a formal letter; and finally, for continued infringements, a court may rule that the connection be suspended for a period of up to one year. The UK provisions are based similarly on notifications, threats and then action (and the latter within a range of possibilities) but have evidently proved to be controversial despite the efforts of the Creative Coalition Campaign to point to the problems caused to jobs in the creative industries by copyright infringements becoming an apparently accepted part of daily life.

However, despite being passed – equally controversially – in October with the intention of starting enforcement procedures early in 2010, the French law is not yet in force, and the first warnings are now due to be issued only from next month. It is perfectly possible that the rise in illegal downloads is associated with either or both of an attempt to enjoy a postponed reprieve from the new law and greater publicity surrounding the issue: the new law came into being in the middle of the period covered by this research. Thus, it would be something of a surprise had incidences of illegal downloading not risen at this time.

As in the UK, the French law is expected to lead to a reduction in internet-based copyright infringements. In the UK, the government expects the new laws to lead to a 70-80% reduction in instances of unlawful file sharing (that’s the figure in Digital Britain, p. 110). Figures that ‘prove’ a drop of such a dimension in this activity may well lead to the DEB copyright provisions being seen to have worked – on the assumption that the law ends up being passed in some form faithful to the aims of Digital Britain – regardless of how much they have actually been used and in spite of the existing and continuing brouhaha over their nature, including a flashmob event being organised by the Open Rights Group this coming Thursday.

Written by Calvin

29/03/2010 at 7:14 pm

Tomorrow’s (virtual) fish ‘n’ chip paper*

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Hitwise, the website traffic monitoring organisation, has recently revealed that, in the US, Facebook’s website had more traffic than Google’s over the course of a full week, reaching 7.07% of all site visits in the week ending 13 March compared to Google’s 7.03% share. Evidently, one in every seven visits to websites (in the US) is to one of these two – an example of the extent to which both organisations have come to dominate our web lives (Facebook has doubled its number of users in the past twelve months, as the FT’s report of this same story indicates).

Facebook has previously had more traffic than Google over the course of single days, frequently at holiday times, but not over a full week. This was the first occasion on which Google has not ranked No. 1 since September 2007 [registration required; limited viewing time]. Additionally, it is clear that, whereas Google’s overall share has been growing slowly to the point where it is almost static, Facebook has been swallowing market share, rising from around 2.5% of all website visits around one year ago.

One of the interesting follow-on aspects to this story is provided by a couple of stories that Hitwise posted a few weeks previously: one referring to another blog commenting that, following a company news blog posting encouraging users to set up a news feed on their Facebook pages, Facebook could become a significant distribution force for news content on the web; the other that the sorts of news sites that Facebook users access is fundamentally different to those accessing news via Google News, being much more geared to ‘broadcast’ as opposed to ‘print’ media.

Google itself is still the largest point of reference for news and media sites, originating over 17% of traffic to news and media sites, while Facebook is 4th largest, accounting for 3.52% (in turn ahead of Google News’s 1.39% share). Combined, Facebook and Google News account for a very small proportion of traffic to news sites – and it would be interesting to see a similar balance for Google, as the top provider of ‘upstream clicks’. Nevertheless, the list of news sites that accrue from clicks via Facebook being so different to the more traditional, heavyweight news sites that accrue via Google News provides an insightful comment on the changing use of the internet. I’m tempted to say that the news and media sites to which Facebook offers ‘upstream’ traffic more or less offer ‘news lite’ content – that would, perhaps, be a bit unfair, but it is clear that weather, entertainment, humour and the attempt to provide user-relevant, or user-oriented, news stories (and applications) predominate on Facebook compared to the ‘here’s what’s happening’ approach of traditional news sites.

That by itself is an eye-catching (and, actually,  quite uncomfortable, albeit not particularly new) comment on how we use the internet to read news (and what we are likely to read while we’re there), as well as the sorts of sites that are more likely to land underneath our mouse. This leads to a discussion not least of the future of online news sites, how they might look, etc. – and whether and how they might charge us for content in the future. It has long been an aim of some online newspapers to charge for access (and not just those within the ownership of the Murdoch clan, either), to which the usual counterpoint has been the availability of alternative, ‘free’ sites (in inverted commas because the alternative funding models, based on advertising, underpinning such sites mean that you pay for it somewhere, somehow); or, otherwise, the ability of news services to ‘scrape’ news stories from paid-for sites, thereby getting around the payment angle.

The rise of Facebook and the different approaches its users have to accessing news media, however, offers another – the traditional news media sites are, increasingly, not what we want to visit anyway.

This doesn’t preclude the possibility of online sites charging for access – for which you might be prepared to do to keep up with a news approach to which you are instinctively sympathetic or a favourite commentator, for example. But it does seem likely to put another obstacle in the way of the pay-for-content model. It will be interesting to see how the Murdoch clan et al. get around that.

* As long as the fish ‘n’ chips doesn’t become virtual, too.

Written by Calvin

17/03/2010 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Web life

Tagged with ,

YouTube future under threat

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Campaigners were calling last night for YouTube, a popular internet channel, to be closed down after it was claimed that it was implicated in instances of copycat drinking.

The claims arose as sales of Buckfast tonic wine rose by 40% in the last year despite its makers – a community of monks at Buckfast Abbey – having no advertising budget following their preference for a ‘reserved promotional approach‘. Buckfast, known as ‘Buckie’ amongst Glasgow neds amongst whom it has a reputation as ‘commotion lotion’, is now the biggest selling fortified wine in the UK.

Campaigners highlighting the rapid growth in sales despite the lack of marketing of the product pointed to the role of YouTube in spreading the word about the properties of the drink given its hosting of videos highlighting consumption. Earlier this year, Buckie was implicated in the rise of anti-social behaviour in the Strathclyde area.

YouTube could not be contacted for comment, but was believed to be checking with its lawyers over whether the videos of neds supping the drink need to be removed. YouTube is believed to be increasingly concerned over its future as a result of this sort of reporting on the Digital Economy Bill.

Written by Calvin

11/03/2010 at 10:21 am

EU hearing no picnic for Kroes

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European Voice reported yesterday that Neelie Kroes, the Dutch politician who is currently EU Competition Commissioner and who has been nominated to head the new department of the digital agenda, has written to the European Parliament’s industry, research and energy committee to clarify points raised in her hearing, which took place on Thursday last week.

Kroes’s letter is, according to European Voice, intended to stave off concerns over whether she is sufficiently prepared for the job following the ‘disappointment and frustration‘ [registration required; limited viewing time] of the members of the committee over her performance. It has been reported that Kroes was ‘off her game‘ at the hearing, which was also reported as having been one of the tougher ones, no doubt prompted by Kroes’s own reputation, and that Kroes had done herself no favours by sticking to her desk at Competition since the announcement of the new Commission rather than on playing the political game. Kroes’s appearance before the parliament seems to have been marked by a broad-brush, with little details emerging other than a commitment to net neutrality and to free online expression, to tightening up Europe’s diverse online copyright laws and to building a single digital market, and to the principle of mobile roaming, but without a coherent legislative programme tying it all together. To be fair, the brief on the digital agenda is a new one. It has also been suggested that European People’s Party members have been under instructions not to sanction Kroes’s appointment until their own Commissioner nominees had been approved.

The committee has not written its formal evaluation and it has been suggested that Kroes will receive an invitation to a second hearing, likely to be held this morning at 11 am in camera although this had not been confirmed as of last night. Parliament was due to vote on the new Commission on January 26th, although this now looks likely to be postponed until the second week of February following the withdrawal from the process of Rumiana Jeleva, the much-criticised Bulgarian Commissioner-designate.

Written by Calvin

19/01/2010 at 11:29 am

BBC Trust gives approval for Canvas

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Following earlier media reports, the BBC Trust – which governs the structural policy aspects of the operation of the BBC – has today given provisional approval for BBC participation in Project Canvas, the Corporation’s own joint venture initiative for internet TV.

The language of the earlier reports remained extremely tentative, not so much about the Trust’s likely approval of the Project itself, but more a reflection of the uncertainties over the project itself. Project Canvas, which is a joint venture involving a number of media players other than the BBC, including ITV, Channel Four, Five, BT and Talk Talk (and which has it’s own unofficial blog – though this looks rather similar to the project’s own newly-established website), is a means of making the BBC’s iPlayer service, as well as other similar offerings from other broadcasters and particular internet services (including Facebook, YouTube and Flickr), available via Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes. It is a successor to earlier BBC initiatives in the same area. Essentially, the project is designed to develop an internet protocol standard for TV sets as a means of exploiting the internet-ready TVs expected to come on to the market in 2010 and to take up 20% of it.

The Project is not without controversy, nor opponents (including Virgin Media and BSkyB), and the BBC Trust has placed several conditions on the Corporation’s participation in it, as well as a period of further consultation. DRM (digital rights management), quality standards and fairness to rivals are all likely to be issues which need tackling, as Ofcom has stated in the past.

Should it be successful, its effect on network provision – with the the iPlayer already under criticism for swamping networks – is likely to be significant, and this has already had its effect on what Project Canvas should look like, particularly whether it should mimic the iPhone apps store, with additional and premium services the subject of separate fees.  Consequently, its impact on current free-to-air television – which is central to the BBC Trust’s deliberation of the concept, given the licence fee funding basis for the BBC, as well as to BSkyB’s own stated objections, is less certain – as its impact on cannibalising the BBC’s own programming schedules. Furthermore, and similar to the arguments around online newspapers: if you only watch the TV programmes you want to watch, rather than the ones that you really ought to watch, what future for news programmes and quality investigative reporting?

Written by Calvin

22/12/2009 at 1:06 pm

A copyright nut

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No, not me.

A story in today’s The Scotsman reports that a 16-year-old schoolboy is facing a £5,000 royalties charge for breach of copyright for filming, editing and posting on YouTube 10-minute highlights of games involving his favourite football team. (Of course, it’s his local team and good quality clips they are, too.)

So, the team: Celtic? Rangers? St Johnstone? And whose copyright is infringed: the BBC? STV? None of these: but the mighty Buckie Thistle, in the first place; and, in the second, well – that’s a bit confused. It’s not his club which is threatening the charge – he has the full support of the Buckie Jags – but the Highland League, whose official – John Grant – maintains that it has copyright on games involving League teams and that the League’s permission to film had never been sought.

When it comes to matters of principle,  this site absolutely defends the rights of copyright holders – except that this (as the lawyer in The Scotsman indicates) is not actually a copyright issue: the rights holder here is actually likely to be the lad himself. Most football clubs have some sort of ground regulations prohibiting the filming of events (usually because they want to sell the rights on and amateur filming inhibits their ability to do so) and quite often these will stem from generic regulations applied within the appropriate football association. I have no idea whether this is the case within the Highland League or at Buckie Thistle – though the Jags’s support for his activities indicates the club are at least prepared to waive these in his case. But, neither of these appears to have been the ‘offence’ with which he is charged. And no-one this season appears to be broadcasting highlights of Highland League games.

John Grant isn’t, perhaps, the guilty party: officious, yes; wrong: absolutely. An amateur himself, he can’t be blamed for not knowing the ins and outs of the law. But, sometimes, a blind eye needs to be turned, you know? A League Committee meets to discuss the issue in January and it’s to be hoped that the common sense solution – permission to film games is first sought and then given (without a charge for royalties) – is the one that then prevails. In the meantime, you can sign a petition in support of ‘Buckie Jags Man’ – David Smith – here.

Written by Calvin

17/12/2009 at 11:02 am

Posted in Social policy

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