April 2009

Y we Cymraeg

by Suw on April 26, 2009

Ar hyn o bryd, dw i’n teithio i Aberystwyth i siarad â myfyrwyr am y we, y dyfodol, ac eu gyrfâu. Hefyd, bydda i’n cymryd rhan mewn sgwrs am y we Cymraeg. Dw i’n meddwl fod ‘na ddau problemau efo’r we Cymraeg.

  1. Mae’n dychrunu i ddysgwyr sy ddim yn rhugl
  2. Does dim digon o siaradwyr rhugl sydd yn defnyddio’r we

Dydy’r ddau problem ddim yn hawdd i ddatrys. Mae ‘na fwy gwefannau ar gyfer dysgwyr nawr nag erioed, ond dw i’n meddwl fod ‘na rywstr i ddysgwyr i fynd o ddysgu i ddefnyddio. Mae gen i lawer o lyfrau sydd wedi cael eu sgwenu ar gyfer dysgwyr, ac maen nhw’n bendigedig. Ond dw i ddim yn gwybod os mae na wefannau fel ‘na ar gael, sydd defnyddio Cymraeg syml. Does ddim lawer o amser, felly dw i eisiau weld mwy o wefannau yn defnyddio RSS, podcasts a videocasts i rannu eu cynnwys. Dw i eisiau ‘Idiom y Dydd’ ac yn y blaen i ddod i fi.

Dw i’n meddwl fod broadband penetration yn dylanwad yr ail problem. Mae Ofcom yn dweud fod broadband penetration yn Nghymru yn dim ond 45%. Mwy o rifau o Ofcom:

A quarter of adults in Wales have watched video content online
Broadcasters operating in Wales are repackaging regional content for distribution over the internet; the BBC, S4C and ITV all offer online Wales-focused programmes. Around a quarter (24%) of adults in Wales have used the internet to watch TV or video content, rising to 36% in Cardiff. This compares with 30% across the UK as a whole. Use appears to correlate with broadband penetration.

One in ten adults in Wales have listened to radio online
Many radio stations offer listen-live functionality over the internet. One in ten (9%) in Wales have used the internet to listen to the radio; lower than the UK average (13%). Use is higher in England, with similar levels in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

15% of adults in Wales have used a social networking site
Fewer people in Wales use social networking sites than the UK average – 15% compared to 20%. Again this is related to the lower take-up of broadband in Wales.

Broadband take-up highest in Cardiff and Swansea
Internet access in Wales has not grown significantly since 2006 although broadband take-up rose from 43% to 45% over the period. Broadband penetration is higher across the larger southern urban areas (58% in Cardiff and 56% in Swansea), and lower in the smaller southern towns (34%). Broadband take-up in rural areas of Wales is similar to that in rural areas of Northern Ireland, but lower than in England and Scotland.

3G take-up in Wales highest in the UK
Reported take-up of 3G mobile services in Wales (20%) is higher than in England (18%), Scotland (14%), or Northern Ireland (17%).

Dw i ddim yn gywbod y rhifau am siaradwyr Cymraeg, ond byddan nhw’n lai. Felly, sut dan ni’n perswadio mwy o bobl Cymraeg i ddefnyddio’r we yn yr iaith Cymraeg? Faint o bobl ei defnyddio hi yn barod? Sut dan ni’n help cwmnïau i roi mwy arlein? Cwestiynau pwysig ac annodd.

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by Suw on April 16, 2009

I’ve just 40 minutes of battery life left on my MacBook, and nowhere to plug it in. I might well be sitting in United’s “Economy Plus”, but they haven’t seen fit to install plugs for anyone wanting to, y’know, do work on an 11 hour flight.

Things have been utterly insane of late. It’s hard to know where to begin. Ada Lovelace Day was a smash hit, but I’ve barely had time to even think about how amazing it was, because Kevin and I have been house hunting. Kev took two weeks off work to find us somewhere new to live, and he did a damn fine job. We now have a spare room, more space and more of a sense that we’re going to enjoy the flat, rather than feel like we’re invading our landlady’s personal space. We boxed everything up, with much needed help from friends, and moved over the Easter weekend. We haven’t gone far, just to the Arsenal side of the train tracks, but our new neighbourhood is much nicer. We might be further away from the supermarkets and the gym, which is a bit of a pain, but we’re near two parks and there are a lot more nice restaurants and pubs nearby.

The move has also taken us away from the scene of Ahmet Paytak’s murder. He worked at our corner shop, and I must have seen him nearly every day for the few months that he’d been working there. Then one night, as he and his son were closing up, a couple of chaps on a motorbike decided to shoot him and his son, for reasons that remain unclear. Ahmet died, his son Husseyin was shot in the thigh. I felt such sadness for Ahmet’s family. He was a lovely chap, quite quiet and shy but always friendly. Then one day he went to work and never came home.

More positively, I have been insanely busy with work. Last year was an almost total wash-out where work was concerned. I was busy up until the wedding, but summer and autumn were dreadful. Partly it was because I tried to expand my business, instead of focusing down on what I’m good at; partly because I was utterly rubbish at marketing myself (I’m not a natural when it comes to sales and marketing); and partly because I think businesses were waiting for the economic shoe to drop. Now everyone knows how bad the situation is and the truth is that you can’t just put business off forever. Some stuff just has to be done, and thankfully that includes the sort of stuff I do.

This year is shaping up to be much better. Not only am I having a whale of a time with Book Oven, who have to get the award for Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With A Client, but I’m now working on a research project for Carnegie UK Trust on the role of social (and ‘new’) media in civil society. I’m going to be blogging more about that on Strange Attractor. That sees me busy through til mid-July, then off to Prague before collapsing in a heap.

I’ve been writing a lot more. Not the fiction recently, but over the last few months I’ve done long piece for .Net magazine, and more for The Guardian’s tech section. I’m doing better at researching and writing quickly: it’s taking about 2 days for me to research and write 800 words now, and I’m learning not to over-report which helps a lot. But I want to get much, much better at writing effectively this year, so expect more from me.

Now I’m on a plane to San Francisco, primarily to attend O’Reilly’s Social Web Foo Camp, but also to do a bit of research for the Carnegie project. When I get back, I’m looking forward to focusing on my main two projects and to spending more time relaxing with my husband. We’ve barely had a chance to catch our breath the last few months, but hopefully, now the move is over, we can chill out a little. Hopefully!!

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Coming to San Francisco

by Suw on April 8, 2009

I’m going to be in San Francisco between 15th and 23rd April, although up in Sebastopol for the weekend. I have two projects running at the moment that I’d like to explore with anyone who’s interested.

The future of the social web
What might the future of the social web look like? What trends and developments in technology, demographics, etc. might influence how things could change? If you had to ask “What if…?”, which “if” would you ask?

Books and publishing
How do you write? What are the challenges to finishing a long-form piece? If you’re an agent or a publisher, what are the missing pieces in your publishing puzzle? What tasks or processes are clunky and awkward?

If you want to meet up with me to talk about either the social web or books, let me know.

And if you just want to meet up for a chinwag, then I’m holding a bit of a do on the evening of Tuesday 21st. I’ve tried to do an event thingy on Facebook, but again, ping me by email or @suw me on Twitter if you fancy coming. The location is to be decided – please leave a comment if you have any suggestions for somewhere nice and relatively quiet (big noisy venues aren’t my style; I like to be able to hold a conversation without shouting).

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Henry Porter is just an amoral menace

by Suw on April 5, 2009

I’m sorry, I know this is childish and silly, but Porter’s anti-Google screed is the most ludicrous thing I’ve read in a long time. It is so misinformed it’s barely worth fisking.

The ever-growing empire produces nothing but seems determined to control everything

If indeed a new era of global responsibility has come into being with measures that actually restrain banks and isolate tax havens, it may be time for the planet’s dominant economic powers to focus on the destructive, anti-civic forces of the internet. Exactly 20 years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the blueprint for the world wide web, the internet has become the host to a small number of dangerous WWMs – worldwide monopolies that sweep all before them with exuberant contempt for people’s rights, their property and the past.

Henry Porter is the most prominent WWM, but let’s start with an American site that is making a name for itself in straightforward misappropriation. Scribd.com offers free downloads of every kind of book, magazine, brochure, guide, research paper and pamphlet to 55 million readers every month. Many have been uploaded illegally. Last week the publishers of JK Rowling, Ken Follett and Aravind Adiga took action to remove books that had been illegally published on the site.

Scribd.com complied, but what is interesting is the company’s institutional lack of guilt when the piracy was exposed. Instead of admitting it and apologising, it issued a statement claiming Scribd possessed “industry-leading copyright management system which goes above and beyond requirements of Digital Millennium Copyright Act”.

That’s like a drunk driver protesting innocence because he’s covered by the best insurance company. What matters is the crime, the theft of someone else’s content, which has taken care, labour, money and expertise to publish.

The point is that even if Scribd removes books, it still allows individuals to advertise services for delivering pirated books by email, which must make it the enemy of every writer and publisher in the world. In effect it has turned copyright law on its head: instead of asking publishers for permission, it requires them to object if and when they become aware of a breach.

Henry Porter presents a far greater threat to the livelihood of individuals and the future of commercial institutions important to the community. One case emerged last week when a letter from Billy Bragg, Robin Gibb and other songwriters was published in the Times explaining that Henry Porter was playing very rough with those who appeared on its subsidiary, YouTube. When the Performing Rights Society demanded more money for music videos streamed from the website, Henry Porter reacted by refusing to pay the requested 0.22p per play and took down the videos of the artists concerned.

It does this with impunity because it is dominant worldwide and knows the songwriters have nowhere else to go. Henry Porter is the portal to a massive audience: you comply with its terms or feel the weight of its boot on your windpipe.

Despite the aura of heroic young enterprise that still miraculously attaches to the web, what we are seeing is a much older and toxic capitalist model – the classic monopoly that destroys industries and individual enterprise in its bid for ever greater profits. Despite its diversification, Henry Porter is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time. On the back of the labour of others it makes vast advertising revenues – in the final quarter of last year its revenues were $5.7bn, and it currently sits on a cash pile of $8.6bn. Its monopolistic tendencies took an extra twist this weekend with rumours that it may buy the micro-blogging site Twitter and its plans – contested by academics – to scan a vast library of books that are out of print but still in copyright.

One of the chief casualties of the web revolution is the newspaper business, which now finds itself laden with debt (not Henry Porter’s fault) and having to give its content free to the search engine in order to survive. Newspapers can of course remove their content but then their own advertising revenues and profiles decline. In effect they are being held captive and tormented by their executioner, who has the gall to insist that the relationship is mutually beneficial. Were newspapers to combine to take on Henry Porter they would be almost certainly in breach of competition law.

In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.” A moment’s thought must tell us that he is still right: newspapers are the only means of holding local hospitals, schools, councils and the police to account, and on a national level they are absolutely essential for the good functioning of democracy.

If, at a time of profound challenges, newspapers fall out with Henry Porter, it could be pretty serious for British society, which is why I referred earlier to anti-civic forces. Of course the company founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page in 1998 – now reckoned to be the world’s most powerful brand – does not offer any substitute for the originators of content nor does it allow this to touch its corporate conscience. That is probably because one detects in Henry Porter something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old.

This particular 11-year-old has known nothing but success and does not understand the risks, skill and failure involved in the creation of original content, nor the delicate relationships that exist outside its own desires and experience. There is a brattish, clever amorality about Henry Porter that allows it to censor the pages on its Chinese service without the slightest self doubt, store vast quantities of unnecessary information about every Henry Porter search, and menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny. And, naturally, it did not exercise Henry Porter executives that Street View not only invaded the privacy of millions and made the job of burglars easier but somehow laid claim to Britain’s civic spaces. How gratifying to hear of the villagers of Broughton, Bucks, who prevented the Henry Porter van from taking pictures of their homes.

We could do worse than follow their example for this brat needs to be stopped in its tracks and taught about the responsibilities it owes to content providers and copyright holders.

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Proofreading the Public Domain

by Suw on April 1, 2009

For the last few months I’ve been working with Book Oven, a Canadian start-up whose aim is to make it easier to prepare long texts for publishing by making it a simple, collaborative process.

The first thing we’ve focused on is how to proofread a manuscript for typos. The problem with reading a whole book all at once and looking for typos is that you can get so caught up in reading that your brain starts to skip the mistakes, seeing what it thinks should be there instead of what actually is. But what if you were presented with just one sentence at a time? You’d lack some context, it’s true, but you don’t really need a lot of context to know if “teh” is a misspelling of “the” or that “their” should be “there”.

That’s what we’ve built at Book Oven, and we’ve called it “Bite-Size Edits”. It presents you with a random snippet of text, with a sentence above and below for limited context, and if you spot a typo you can suggest a correction by editing the sentence and clicking “Suggest changes” (click on the images for a closer look or visit our complete How To).

You can also tell us that the snippet is OK as it is by clicking “No changes”, or that there’s something confusing about it by clicking “Skip”.

If our calculations are correct, it will take 100 people just 10 minutes to proofread a 100,000 word book, and we want to bring that collaborative power to bear on on the public domain. Thousands of texts have been uploaded to Project Gutenberg, but although they have been very carefully proofread some still have a small number of errors. Michael Hart, Project Gutenberg’s founder, called for help in removing these errors, so we’ve set up a version of Bite-Size Edits, which we’ve called the Gutenberg Rally, to focus just on texts from Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders (Gutenberg’s proofreading site).

If you’d like to pitch in, all you need to do is pick an invitation code from the list below and visit the Book Oven Gutenberg Rally site to create a new account. When you’ve successfully signed up, please leave a comment with the code you used and I’ll cross it off the list.
Now, just a little word of warning. The site is in alpha, which means that you will almost certainly find things that are broken! We have a feedback form that you can use to let us know and a forum to discuss things (which, is itself something that’s not entirely finished, as it’s not yet fully integrated – just sign in with the same username and password that you create when you join the main site). We’d love your feedback, so don’t spare the horses!

If you explore the site, you’ll find that you can start your own projects, upload your own text (.txt files only at the moment) and can send it to Bite-Size for the community to proof. Please feel free to experiment, but be aware we’re still ironing out bugs and that we have a lot more social functionality still to unveil!

So, for the love proof-reading, get cracking! Oh, but be warned. Bite-Size Edits has been described by one usability tester as “evilly addictive”. Don’t say we didn’t tell you…

(I’ve added some more codes, but obviously can’t update the list whilst I’m asleep! If you pick one that doesn’t work, list it in the comments and try another!)

Invite Codes

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