Monthly Archives: May 2007

Spam? You’ve won a $100

When I opened my inbox earlier and saw a message announcing I’d won a $100 dollars I reached straight for the delete button. Bloody spam I grunted.

Luckily I stopped just in time to see it was a genuine email. A few weeks ago The Listener was enticing readers to join a regular online panel to respond to questions about all manner of things. I signed up, partly out of professional interest to see how other online polls are being run.

Anyone signing up the Reader Panel, and divulging some demographic information and agreeing to participate on a voluntary basis, goes into various prize draws. The big prizes of holidays in the Pacific Islands have yet to be given away, but some smaller prizes are up for grabs. Randomly drawn from the hat, I am one of five to win a $100 voucher.

I asked what information collected is being used for and received this response from Tristan at APN:

Firstly it is a marketing tool to a certain extent, we use it to see what people have to say about our products and if we receive positive feedback/results we can use that in a marketing sense. We sometimes run ad hoc surveys to gauge readers opinions and feedback and we sometimes use this in marketing material.

However the most important use of the panel is an editorial tool. We use it to shape and develop our newspapers. Feedback from our readers is the most important use of panel information and we use feedback to try and get an idea of what people like or don’t like. Obviously we get many mixed opinions which is expected but reader feedback is crucial for us to know that we are providing a quality product and to help improve it.

Unfortunately you will not get to see any results from reader panel surveys, this data is used internally only. The NZ Herald does run public opinion polls looking at current events, politics etc but the reader panel data is used mainly for product development so you the reader can receive a quality product.

The lengths the NZ Herald (and associated rags) are going to improve quality goes a long way to explaining why the newspaper’s online version was awarded Qantas Media Awards best news website. Although grateful for a voucher, it won’t stop me giving honest feedback. So, here goes. I’d really like to see a column covering dilemmas being an ethical/ green consumer, and …….

DonateNZ – web award winner

Bravo for Claire Sawyers and the team behind the DonateNZ website. This site was the winner of the Community or Government website in the 2007 People’s Choice Netguide Web Awards.

DonateNZ was launched in February 2006 to match people with stuff or time to share and schools, childcare centres and not-for-profit organisations who might have a use for what’s on offer. At the end of the swap, the aim is for “everyone to go away happy”. In its first year of operation over 10,000 items were received by 250 registered recipients. Clearly the $100 annual fee is no barrier to groups and schools participating.

As well as helping out worthwhile causes, the philosophy behind the service is strongly environmental. People are urged to reduce, reuse, recycle. “Don’t dump it, donate it! Give what you have to offer a new lease on life and reduce the strain on our local landfills.”

Talking with nzgirl about the best things in her life, Claire, a 22 year old self-proclaimed entrepeneur, said “If there was one thing I wanted to do in my life, it was to make a difference, and I believe I am well on my way to achieving this goal.”

In the tradition of TradeMe, it feels like the website was born in this country. As well as benefiting recipients directly, the website shows community organisations what is possible in terms of online fundraising. Having just read about a few examples of what charities are doing in the UK (see “Collecting by clicks” from last week’s Guardian), I’m pretty sure DonateNZ would feature among the best of what is on offer in the UK.

I left the website feeling pretty inspired, though I haven’t given anything away just yet.

Fogged in after the Govis 2007 conference

Govis bottle opener key-ringMy mind is a bit foggy after three days in the sheltered conference land of government information system managers, IT policy makers and techies. And no, it’s not due to repeated use of the key ring pictured.

I’m foggy because of the hyping of Web 2.0 and too much riskease. Murky from the vendors touting expensive stacks of technology designed to solve all our problems and more. Eyes glazed over from existing in a bubble where interacting with technology means everything. Fazed-out as I mull over whether I’ve really learnt anything at the 2007 Govis conference.

Softly spoken tehno-vangelist Jon Udell talked about emplowering the ‘ordinary’ citizen to use “web 2.0 apps”. I hope he admits to not being a regular computer guy. He’s very skilled, has all the techy gear (though I read he had his camera stolen on his way from New Hampshire to Aotearoa), is well connected and recently joined Microsoft. He’s part of the tech-elite so I have to wonder if his enthusiasm doesn’t overwhelm what is achieveable for Josephine Public.

Udell’s ideas seemed like something he strayed upon casually just a few weeks ago. One project followed extraordinary flooding in his neighbourhood in Keene. Jon said he was quickly on the scene and recorded on video what he was witnessing. He posted this, and later made an online movie (called a screencast) mixing a voice-over, video and maps from Google earth. The story he tells of the Keene flood is a very localised, but it’s made a bigger splash via an interview on the local public radio about what he’d done online (read and hear about it at “On the Web – A New View of the Flood”) and approaches from authorities wanting his raw video footage to assist with future planning.

Other examples he talked about included sharing citizen views of the current New Hampshire presidential primaries (see “Note to State: Earn Your First in the Nation Status“), pressuring a local school board to share student progress using an online application called PowerSchool by showing how the application would benefit parents (see PowerSchool screencast), and citizens republishing raw crime data from the Department of Justice in meaningful ways.

Despite the deceptive simplicity of the examples Jon shared it looks like lot of tech skills and motivation are required. Although 69% of New Zealander have been online in the last year, I’m not sure how many would go to exploiting such powerful tools. Jon didn’t talk much about how such skills could be transferred. However, unless some conscious efforts are made the divides on the internet will broaden further as the tech-elite empower themselves, while other citizens miss out.

A different tack on citizen action came from Tara Hunt, aka Citizen Rogue (or was it rouge for the colour she brought to the conference). Tara is co-founder of Citizen Agency where she is a community builder for the open source community based in San Francisco. She took us on a blinding tour of a citizen-centric, non-instutitional approach to reshaping e-government for the future (see her presentation Goverment 2.0).

More than once over during her stay Tara enthused about Barcamps. My experience has been that people working in grassroots movements first meet face-to-face first then use email, blogs, etc, to stay in touch. In a lovely reversal, Barcamps are gatherings for people working on open source coding and other IT projects whose communication until recently was typically only in the virtual world. The novelty of Barcamps is people meeting face-to-face. The events are self organising conferences (using an open space style approach) and proving wildly popular, with xx run around the globe since the first one in Paola Alto, California in August 2005.

One example Tara shared of this model of organising crossing over into the world of officialdom was the Toronto Transit Camp. Earlier this year self-proclaimed geeks met to re-design the official Toronto public transport website, describing the approach as being as “a solution playground, not a complaints department”. The result was advice willingly received by Transit Toronto corporation. The event hints at the potential for alternative models of organising to be introduced to promote citizen participation. It would be a pretty scary approach for most public sector IT managers who I suspect would prefer to retain control over promoting participation. Tara’s message is be brave and collaborate.

Blogging will be added to the list of tools used by New Zealand civil servants if panelists on a session on blogging in public service had their way. The panelists from the State Services Commission, Department of Labour and Ministry of Education had experience blogging in a personal capacity, but not within or for their organisations. The number of examples of blogging currently underway within New Zealand government was very, very short (only one currently online actually, Lively on the government’s cultural events website, nzlive.com). The panel about blogging is just about the only session I’ve seen mentioned in the press since the conference (see the Dominion Post 14 May 2007 “Everyone’s blogging, why can’t we”).

This is my take on the conference (aside from the yarns over the tea cups and some suggestions for additions to The Couch which I won’t go into). Despite the optimism, especially for citizens using web 2.0 tools to create change, I am left with a feeling of discomfort about the technocratic framework within which government IT is discussed. Yes, there was mention made of privacy and some ethical concerns but the tenor of the conference boosting technology (in way not to dissimilar to other IT conferences I suspect). Tara Hunt’s admonition – made in Maori learnt a day before her presentation – to recognise the importance of people is a reminder to set technology in its social context. It’s only now, with the fog lifting, that I’m beginning to see this more clearly.

NB All of the conference presentations are available online in Windows Media Player format with slideshows, see the Govis Richmedia website. You need Internet Explorer and broadband to view the media files without frustration. My presentation “Families on The Couch: heading online to hear to from New Zealand families” is available, or you can see a version with slides at www.slideshare.net/sablyth/families-on-the-couch/.

NZ household ICT stats

A snapshot of how many New Zealanders are using information and communications technology (ICTs), and what for, was released by Statistics New Zealand on 27 April 2007. So far a short “Household Use of Information and Communication Technology” hot off the press report is available.

A full report is due for release later in the year, alongside companion statistics related to government and business ICT use.

The survey draws on a significant sample with ICT questions being sent to people completing the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) conducted during the December 2006 quarter. 94 percent of households (13,257) and 89 percent of individuals (24,855) completed the ICT questions lated last year. A second round of surveying will be completed in 2008.

Findings to date show:

  • 71.6 percent (1.1 million) of households in New Zealand had access to a computer at home
  • Nearly two-thirds of households (64.5 percent or 1 million) had access to the Internet at home
  • 69.0 percent of individuals aged 15 years and over used the Internet in the previous 12 months from any location (in the December 2006 quarter). Of those aged between 15 and 24 years, 85.5 percent had used the Internet in the previous 12 months, while only 17.3 percent of people in the 75 years and older age group had done so.
  • 6 percent of people accessed the internet a community facility.

Whereas Internet is not yet all pervasive, mobile phone use is much more so. 86.2 percent of households reported they had personal use of at least one mobile phone.

GreenMyMac – webby winner

Green myapple logoAfter reading today’s announcements of the Webby Awards I’ve become the 45,297th subscriber to Greenpeace’s emails about their Green My Apple campaign. Not only that, but I’ve engaged in a cheeky bit of cyber activism by hugging my mac (which I could do from the comfort of our lounge). You can see a dodgy photo of me doing that on a Green My Apple photo map on flickr (another webby winner) along with photos from another 140 people around the planet. Look for a photo from Wellington.

These two examples demonstrate the creativity behind the campaign and help to explain why the website Greenpeace won the award for the activism category (the first of nearly 70 categories). Other novel online campaign activities include inviting the public to design tv and print ads then making them available online, producing a satirical video that can be emailed to friends, and making loads of logos and pictures for people use any which way.

As an owner of an Apple I cringed when I read the Apple coprporation is being environmentally and socially negligent. My instant reaction was, I’ve got to do something to compensate. I’m not sure if planting trees would assuage my guilt but it’s worth a try.

As I read on, I thought I had better look at an imposing heading right in the the middle of the GreenMyApple homepage. Somehow I had ignored a bold heading reporting that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had announced changes to policies. How I missed that when I first visited the website I’m not sure but I was pleased with what I read. On 2 May, the same day Webby awards were announced, Greenpeace said that Apple are introducing policies “to bring us closer to the greener apple that Mac users all over the world have been asking for” (see “Tasty News from Apple”).

The GreenMyApple campaign was set-up to put pressure on Apple to dramatically reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of the production and disposal of its computers. Apple received the lowest ranking in Greenpeace’s “Guide to Green Electronics” published 3 April 2007. Just 2.7 out of 10.

Here’s a summary of the Greenpeace analysis:

For a company that claims to lead on product design, it is perhaps surprising to find Apple languishing at the bottom of the scorecard. While other laggards have moved upwards in the Guide, Apple has made no changes to its policies or practices since the launch of the Guide in August 2006. The company scores badly on almost all criteria. Apple fails to embrace the precautionary principle, withholds its full list of regulated substances and provides no timelines for eliminating toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and no commitment to phasing out all uses of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Apple performs poorly on product take back and recycling, but it does report on the amounts of its electronic waste recycled.

All this goes to show that good research, an active group of supporters and a highly visible campaign can bring about change. I guess it’s important to make sure Apple sticks to the greener policies they’ve announced. With so many people williing to give up some of their time and energy, I’m pretty sure this will be possible.

Update 20 May 2007: In this week’s Listener Russell Brown lays out an alternative interpretation of Greenpeace’s claims about Apple’s environmental record. Referring to a blog article published in September last year under the pithy title “Greenpeace Lies About Apple”, Brown says Greenpeace got it wrong. The argument goes that by relying on public statements about environmental performance rather than scientific analysis an incorrect conclusion was reached. Apparently Apple have all along had okay environmental standards but they’ve kept it (strangely) silent. Good to hear this is coming into the open, and it’s also pleasing Greenpeace made a big fuss about the seeming poor record. Corporates need to pin their environmental and social values to their sleeves and shout loudly about how good they are and aspire to be. This will put pressure on other companies that don’t measure up, and make it easier for people buying stuff to make informed choices.