Design update

I spent much of yesterday tinkering with the design of the site, to give it a lovely 3-column look.  It looks beautiful in Firefox. 

If you’re using Internet Explorer 6, however, it looks like a bit of a dog’s dinner.  The sidebar is still viewable, in all it’s glory.  It’s just at the bottom of the page, rather than at the side.

Ho hum.  I’ll take another look tonight, to see if I can figure out what went wrong.

New York Times gets a facelift

The New York Times has launched its redesigned website, and its now packed with snazzy new (well, they were new a couple of years back) ideas, such as lists of most blogged stories. They’ve also made the site wider, after taking note of the fact not many people still have 800×600 monitors.
nytimes.jpgAnil Dash, from Six Apart (they of Movable Type and Typepad fame) thinks the new design shows that the NY Times have been learning from bloggers, not just because of the content innovations, but because of their design “aesthetic” – mainly lots of white space.

I have to say that “it looks like a blog” wasn’t the first thing that sprang to mind when I saw the new site. Instead, I was surprised by how much more like the New York Times print edition. One big picture to give focus, with the lead stories of the day arrayed around it.

Which, actually, in my book is a good thing. I know we are supposed to use they web in new and exciting ways. But, in all my time, I’ve never really found a website that, for front page design, has bettered the humble print newspaper.

BBC to run adverts for international web-viewers

In just a few months, if you visit the bbc.com website from abroad, you’ll see adverts as you browse:

As a commercial organisation which “buys rights from the BBC at commercial rates”, Worldwide is keen to improve its returns on behalf of taxpayers, he said. New software employed by the BBC is able to track overseas users of BBC.co.uk. “What we are investigating is: should the BBC make money from these people and return it back to licence-fee payers to invest in programmes,” said Mr Moody.

Given that one in three hits to a BBC website is from abroad, this could be a pretty big moneyspinner for the BBC.

There is some opposition to the move, mainly from the BBC’s domestic rivals, who complain that the BBC is taking advantage of it’s public funding.  But, as one of the millions of British licence payers who fund the BBC, I say go for it.

I pay for the BBC’s services, but the billions of people who access the BBC (particularly its websites) from abroad don’t, and this is a pretty good way of getting ensuring that I don’t subsidise the world.  In particular, I like the advertising model, because it allows the BBC to generate revenue primarily from the richer users (because they pay for the advertising indirectly), while maintaining the site as free to access for people from poorer countries, that aren’t targets for the advertisers.

Man attacked with typewriter

A Russian man gets mad at a Ukrainian, and this is what happens:

“The molester threw a typewriter out of his window on the fifth floor, aiming at a passing Ukrainian citizen,” a source in the law enforcement agencies said.

The typewriter landed on the Ukrainian’s head and he had to be taken to hospital with skull injuries. A few hours later the police detained the assaulter, a Moscow resident who admitted his guilt.

The pen might not be mightier than the sword, but the typewriter, now that’s a real weapon.

(This post brought to you courtesy of the Mosnews appreciation society).

The ipod dead within a year? Yeah, right.

Tomi Ahonen at Engagement Alliance thinks the ipod (in fact, standalone mp3 players full stop) will be dead by the end of 2006:

The winner to take its place? Mobile phones playing music.

He quotes many many fascinating facts and figures, such as the 19% of people who listen to music on mobile phones, against the mere 10% of people who listen to their music on the ipod.

Survey’s don’t lie, I know.  So, I’d like to bring you the results of my own highly scientific survey (based entirely on wandering round London with my eyes open).  I can now exclusively reveal the following:
First, based on my highly scientific observations, I saw far more people with wires sticking out of their ears pull ipods out of their coat pockets than any other standalone mp3 player.

Second, based on the same observations, I also saw far far more people with wires sticking out of their ears pull standalone mp3 players out of their coat pockets than pull out a mobile phone connected to said wires.

Therefore, I can triumphantly conclude (more’s the pity) that the ipod is certainly not dead or dying in London.

Additionally, Tomi reckons that, because music sales to mobiles are growing rapidly, they’ll kill itunes. So, here’s another thought (sadly not based on my wandering around London survey, but on a modicum of common sense)… aren’t most of the music sales to mobiles of ringtones?

Nice though they may be (actually, they’re not – they’re usually derivations of that bloody Crazy Frog) music ringtones aren’t really what I’d classify as listening to music. They’re more like… being alerted to the fact that someone, somewhere is trying to contact you.

They might make big money, but at the moment its a whole different market to itunes.

(Yes, I realise this post sounds slightly tetchier than normal.  Sorry Tomi – it’s because Tesco have just delivered our monthly shopping, and now I have to go unpack it all…)

Free our data!

An interesting campaign began in this week’s Technology Guardian, aimed at making all data collected by government free to consumers and businesses. The basic argument is that as taxpayers have already paid to collect the data, why should they then pay again to access said data?

Imagine you had bought this newspaper for a friend. Imagine you asked them to tell you what’s in the TV listings – and they demanded cash before they would tell you. Outrageous? Certainly. Yet that is what a number of government agencies are doing with the data that we, as taxpayers, pay to have collected on our behalf. You have to pay to get a useful version of that data. Think of Ordnance Survey’s (OS) mapping data: useful to any business that wanted to provide a service in the UK, yet out of reach of startup companies without deep pockets.

It’s an interesting argument. The key problem though, of course, is that if organisations like OS don’t recoup any of their costs by selling the data, then they’ll need increased government revenue. Which means higher taxes for you and me.

So, the question then becomes – will the giving away public data for free provide enough extra tax revenue to (more than) cover the lost income?

Yes, says the Guardian. Just look at the example of the United States:

Pira pointed out that the US’s approach brings enormous economic benefits. The US and EU are comparable in size and population; but while the EU spent €9.5bn (£6.51bn) on gathering public sector data, and collected €68bn selling and licensing it, the US spent €19bn – twice as much – and realised €750bn – over 10 times more. Weiss pointed out: “Governments realise two kinds of financial gain when they drop charges: higher indirect tax revenue from higher sales of the products that incorporate the … information; and higher income tax revenue and lower social welfare payments from net gains in employment.”

The only way we’re going to get an answer is if we take a punt, and try releasing data for free for a few years.

I’d wager that, as the data becomes more and more important to our information technologies, such a gamble will pay off.  But we have to take the leap now.  If we don’t, the EU’s direct revenue from public data will become so great that it will be too hard for Europe’s governments to relinquish that direct income stream in favour of a nebulous future tax income.  And by then, it will be too late.

Guardian Unlimited website breaks even

Here’s an interested tidbit from a Guardian article about online advertising:

For publishers, the fact that online advertising is beginning to come of age is undoubtedly good news. Guardian Unlimited will break even for the first time this financial year, largely on pursuing a model of advertising revenue – something that only as recently as three years ago many industry pundits thought would be impossible.

I’d always assumed that most newspapers ran their online presence as a loss-leader – especially those who don’t charge the end-user for their content.

Guardian Unlimited is one of the biggest and most ambitious news sites out there, but if they can break even now (and hopefully turn a profit in the future) we could be seeing the beginnings of a shift in how newspapers are funded.