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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Something Must Be Done! Panorama goes all Daily Mail

I haven’t yet seen last night’s Panorama, but by all accounts it was a fairly shocking affair. Who needs the Daily Mail to scaremonger, when the widely trusted and impartial BBC can do it better?

Science degrees may not be cool, but at least if we had a few more geeks in the media we could get away from this nonsensical approach to news. “Electromagnetic radiation? Oooh, sounds scary. Best do an expose on it.”

Only this morning I read a story about a campaign by ‘families’ to get at least one of the three mobile phone masts ‘near’ their houses moved. Try telling them that the radiation from their phone is many times what they will receive from the mast, or that the further they are from the mast, the more radiation it will emit. They won’t listen. Of course they don’t want to hear that — that would mean giving up their mobile phone. Much easier to believe that the big scary mast is the problem, rather than their cute little handset.

Before crying ‘something must be done’, people really ought to do a little reading.

(Read more responses on BadScience.net, here)

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Hardware: A Solid Investment

For someone in the telecoms industry, yesterday’s results from BT were perhaps a little counter-intuitive. Only a couple of weeks ago I heard someone at a conference suggest that BT was ‘struggling’. I disagreed, but wasn’t too surprised to hear it.

The fact is that the market sees any company that owns a network as outdated. Thanks in part to the new dotcom boom, there is the perception that hardware is old-hat, and those that make it or operate it are going to struggle in the new world of ‘2.0’. The theory goes that bandwidth becomes a commodity, and the service owner, rather than the connection provider, owns the customer. The telcos — fixed and wireless — will be left holding a high capital investment with no way to make returns at an appropriate rate.

This is, of course, bollocks. Compare the revenues of a Vodafone, or a BT to any one of the new boomers and you realise that however hot the new company may be, they have a long way to go.

“What about Google?” someone says. “That’s a software business that has comparable revenues”.

And what is Google spending all its money on at the moment (apart from YouTube)? Hardware. It is building out enormous server farms and global Ethernet networks to support the services it delivers today and those it envisions for the future. I might have questioned the minds that paid so much for YouTube, but I don’t think they are dumb enough to blow a fortune on hardware if it’s going out of fashion.

In short, the theory that you can’t make money out of owning a network is a dumb one. Yes data prices are falling. Yes voice minute revenues are falling. But we’re going to be using a hell of a lot more data in the next few years, and the margins for the smart providers are growing, not falling, as they replace expensive legacy gear with cheap, reliable IP networks.

BT’s data business has gone from a few hundred thousand business customers paying £6k a year for a leased line, to millions paying £150 a year for DSL. On top of that they can now sell the business customers IT services, and the home customers media.

Want to make some money out of the new dotcom boom? For me, the smart money’s on the networks.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Networked World

Interesting little case study this, of the way our modern media works, and just how connected our worlds are.

It all starts with a fire, affecting the offices of a company I know. Fortunately being an IT company that practices what it preaches, the team there had backed up all their data over a broadband line to the MD’s house. That last sentence alone is pretty telling of how far we have come in terms of data speeds in the last five years — that backing up a whole IT company’s files is realistic over a home broadband line. But it is what happens after this that gets more interesting.

The company’s PR agent sees the opportunity to make some capital out of this, and having struggled to get the interest of the media in his client beforehand now returns to them with the story of the fire. So far so traditional — but good — PR. But next the PR posts the whole episode on his blog, then contacts his blogging chums (including yours truly), and asks them to link to it to raise the blog’s profile. Of course his mobile number is posted at the bottom should any journos come across it and want to speak to his client. Clever.

I don’t know whether this will work, but it is an interesting example of the constant manipulation of the web, and the tools and algorithms that govern a site’s popularity and search ranking.

It reminded me about an article in Sunday’s Observer where Web 2.0 naysayer Andrew Keen received some fairly hefty coverage. Having read Andrew’s blog he doesn’t exactly agree with his portrayal in the article, but he is genuinely against the ‘cult of the amateur’ as he calls it. He seems to have two issues. Firstly that in the online world, people can be totally self-defining, or as he puts it “we are what we broadcast ourselves to be”. The lack of checks and balances on our online personas is ‘infantilising’. Secondly that the open ability to post and edit on blogs or sites like Wikipedia devalues or bypasses genuine measures of achievement; i.e. you have to be qualified to be a doctor, be published to be an author etc.

I’d like to read Andrew’s book before I start laying in to his theories, but my immediate reaction is a negative one. The online world that we inhabit today is an infant, not infantilising. It is an embryonic community where the rules are still being set, and like any society, those rules will need to be constantly refined to accommodate changes in technology and culture. While manipulations of the system like the attempt above are today possible, and even legitimate, the chances are that the evolution of the system will make them more difficult and less acceptable. And at the same time the experts today disenfranchised by disintermediation will rise to their rightful positions as they become more acquainted with the technology, and the rules are put in place to grant them the respect they deserve.

Tom Cheesewright