The downward spiral of negative politics

Politics. The art of dodging an answer and bombarding the person asking the question with statistics on how devastating all alternatives bar their own party will be…..

The news today (and sadly for the next few weeks) is a mix of unaffordable election promises coupled with an underlining need to explain how the other parties are wrong. Suddenly, parties are keen to help our armed forces, solve our ailing schools, invest billions in infrastructure, settle Brexit with ease and ensure that the NHS has the resources it has for so long pleaded for.

Equally,  we have claims that Labour will bankrupt us with a £1.2 trillion spending plan,  the Conservatives have something to hide with their refusal to release the report on Russian interference and a general consensus across all parties that having gone through years of austerity we apparently now have the confidence to increase debt burden with impunity.

John Pienaar, the BBC correspondent, writes “all the party leaders are worried trust is at stake in this election.” With respect, this misses the point. Our party leaders do not need to concern themselves with trust because there isn’t any and any attempt to reassert trust prior to 12 December is frankly a  waste of time and energy.

We have become accustomed to manifestos that promise the earth and then rarely deliver coupled with a negative focus on the impact of what “everyone else is promising to do”. The current state of politics is not about an honest assessment of where we are nor is it about explaining  how we are going to maximise opportunities and deal with problems. Instead it has descended into a cacophony of negatives where the road to No.10 is predicated on undermining at all costs the policies and ideas of competitors.

If we are to rebuild trust between politicians and the public then we need to see a wholesale change in the approach of our would-be leaders. Leaders need to set out clearly what they stand for whilst acknowledging the challenges that they will face. Leaders need to stop focusing on the devastating impact the policies of their competitors will bring and focus more on setting out how they will deliver and often how they will pay for their own policies. Leaders to need to move beyond the soundbite that exists today where policies are adapted to focus on whatever is popular at a particular moment in time.

I want to trust our politicians but to do so I want to believe in what they are telling me. I would like to hear a politician telling me they got it wrong – we are all human and we all make mistakes. I want politicians to stop telling me how bad everyone else is and stop insulting my intelligence that I cannot come to my own views on this. Most of all I want politicians to answer the questions they are asked.

Whatever happens in December, it will not be about trust as that is a bridge that cannot be fixed that quickly but it can be a start if someone is brave enough to focus on what they are doing and not what everyone else is.

To be or not to be…forgotten

Ever since 2014,  individuals have had the right to demand that search engine providers remove information on them if it can shown that such information is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive”. The so-called “right to be forgotten” was controversial at the time – not least because it is an inevitable clash between the freedom of speech and an individuals rights. However, following a £100,000 fine levied against Google by the French data regulator, the extent of this right was challenged on a geographical basis and whether the EU could effectively force search engine providers to adhere to an individuals rights to be forgotten on a global basis.

Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the EU court backed Google and have made it clear that the right only exists in the member states. Whilst the court went on to indicate that search engine providers should still take steps to discourage de-listed links from being accessed outside the EU, the overarching decision means that attempts to extend the EU’s restrictions on freedom of speech are limited to the EU bloc itself.

The decision is sensible (and practical as it is hard to see on what basis the EU could realistically restrict what individuals in countries outside its jurisdiction can/cannot view on the internet) but highlights the inherent problem of having a global platform such as the internet being regulated at local level where politics, law, religion, and general sentiment can influence what is considered right or wrong.

By 2207gsm Posted in Tech

The high street dilemma….

The last couple of years have seen a seismic change in the high street. Many of our well known brands have been forced to use (or misuse depending on perspective) the CVA process or disappear entirely. Whilst it is the well known brands such as House of Fraser, Top Shop etc that have made the news, many smaller shops that do not have the resource or clout to renegotiate leases or creditor arrangements have simply disappeared.

The inevitable question is whether the the high street is doomed no matter what changes are made or is it able to adapt and grow?

Before we discuss changes to be made it is perhaps best to consider what has gone wrong. This is not just about the “big names” – the high street has struggled across the board and the reasons for the demise varies, in particular:

  • The online giants: the way we shop has changed. It is not just about range or price, it is about convenience and speed. You can now with ease logon to Amazon and order pretty much anything for next day delivery. This in itself makes the high street less attractive. We don’t necessarily want to have the hassle or cost of parking to go high street shopping when a few clicks from the comfy position of your own sofa achieve the same aim;
  • Poor online presence: many of the high street shops have developed their own online presence but instead of complimenting and working alongside their high street presence the online user experience is woefully inadequate. Finding items and “signing up” are difficult and cumbersome, delivery times are sometimes excruciatingly slow and navigating the payment process can be frustrating;
  • Online v offline costs: having a high street presence is expensive and the increase in business rates etc has done little to alleviate this pressure. Equally, online business has the advantage of a lower operational cost base which enables it to invest and promote its presence;
  • Head in the sand mentality: like a lot of businesses, one of the biggest failures is often not recognizing or embracing change. It is easy in the good times to assume that the world will always be the same but the last 15-20 years have seen a quite revolution in the way we use technology. Many businesses have refused to embrace this change and have instead continued to invest and operate in the same way as they have always done. M&S anyone?…..

So is the high street dead? In short the answer is no but it needs to adapt. It is not just about technology but changing the way that the high street operates in general. In particular:

  • Collaboration: high street businesses (large and small) need to work closer together to attract footfall. Combined initiatives including delivery services, click and collect, leave and collect later, joint entertainment services etc can all be done as a collective;
  • Interaction between online and offline: at the moment the interaction between the online and offline environment is almost non-existent. High street businesses have the advantage of allowing customers to try, look and touch items – something that an online business will never be able to compete with. High streets need to adapt to allow shoppers to benefit from this experience. Allowing shoppers (for example) to simply try on items and then have them delivered the same or next day would enable stores to stock greater selections and more varied sizes;
  • Technology: whilst the online environment is inevitably embracing technology, the high street should also be looking at ways in which it can use technology to encourage people to visit their stores. Cross business promotions, dedicated high street voucher schemes, integrated apps to enable users to buy and either collect later or have delivered etc. are just of the basic ways in which technology can assist the physical shopping experience. Allowing greater collaboration between different businesses and online/offline experience (obviously GDPR compliance is a necessity here!) would allow technology to assist users to identify bargains, have linked items to things already purchased flagged as they visit particular stores etc.;
  • Its a party: visiting the high street should be an experience. It needs to offer something beyond just viewing and buying physical items. Major sporting and entertainment events need to be available for viewing, street entertainment needs expanding beyond the tiresome “bronze statues” we constantly see now, links with local college theatrical department can assist promote an enjoyable environment;
  • Learning from success: There are many examples in the high street that have been successful. In particular major brands such as Waterstones have taken the major threat of digital books and transformed their operations so that visiting a bookstore is an experience in itself and gives a reason to be there. In addition, we are seeing the growth of the independents – not just coffee shops but small shops that are selling unique items;
  • Government: whilst the solution to the high street woes is not just about the imbalance between online and offline businesses, the Government (central and local) needs to do more to encourage high street shopping. Reducing business rates, caps on car parking charges, greater traffic infrastructures, standardizing online/offline taxes etc are basic ways in which the playing field can be leveled.

The high street woes are largely down to businesses not recognizing the changing world we now live in. All businesses whether high street or not have to adapt and the high street is no different. However, the high street has a future – it has advantages that online will never be able to compete with – it is time to adapt and take control.

Wework – another bubble waiting to burst?….

Remember the dot.com boom? Followed by the dot.com bust? – well apparently not. As the wheels appear to be coming off the wework floatation, isn’t it about time we took stock (excuse the pun) and looked at the absurd valuations that we are seeing of various businesses? Whether it is tech darlings such as Slack or the gig economy giants of Lyft and Uber – our propensity to overvalue something that shows limited signs of being able to actually make money continues.

Wework is the latest business to prepare to float but if rumours are true – Softbanks investment in the office rental business is turning sour before it even gets to floatation with its valuation of the business being reduced from over $40bn to $20bn.

Like all investments there is risk as much as there is reward. Investments in Slack, Uber et al are understandably based on future potential especially considering that nearly all of these businesses are currently losing money and burning cash but the valuations that are emerging make the stock market appear more like a reverse game of pass the parcel whereby instead of getting a prize when the music stops – you get left with a load of shares that are worth a fraction of what you paid for them.

Wework has expanded significantly and has an impressive property portfolio but it faces a number of challenges. Firstly, it is inevitably exposed to an economic downturn. Long term property deals are fine if you can conversely tie in tenants on long term arrangements but the wework model is built on having an ongoing stream of short term tenants – as such, as the economy faces a downturn so will the demand for space. Secondly, the ongoing need for office space is changing as a number of businesses structure themselves to collaborate via online tools and reduce their need for physical space. The shift to flexible and agile working environments will exacerbate this further.

Equally, the gig economy businesses of Uber and Lyft are facing external threats not only from regulators but also from some of its own workers demanding rights such as holiday and sick pay – all of which will see price increases to the consumer as their cost base increases.

It is not all bad – all of the above businesses are built on solid platforms and have the advantage of significant investment behind them. Uber in particular has one powerful asset that it has yet to fully exploit – data. As we continue to move into a world where everything is about the “here and now”, the Uber infrastructure will allow it to continue to adapt by expanding its physical services beyond the provision of “taxi services ” to delivery. In addition, be able to fully exploit its growing collection of data to help service its customers every needs.

However, the problem with all of these businesses is they are currently built on unsustainable valuations. The market will at some point do what it did in the 1990’s – the bubble will burst and a lot of people will find themselves holding devalued (or even worse, worthless) stock. We will ever learn? Probably not…….

Google Glass – worth the hype?

Garry Mackay

On 4 Jul 2014, at 18:00, “Garry Mackay” wrote:

Ok so I know that I should just ignore it but this little voice kept saying “go for it” and so with a degree of anticipation I went to Google basecamp and got my first introduction to google glass.

First impressions are mixed but you can certainly see the potential. On the downside:

A. You look stupid. Sorry no other way to describe it. The guy giving the demo insisted he used it for sport etc but no matter how much he tried to argue there was no getting around the fact that it is not aesthetically pleasing (Interestingly it was the battery sticking out the back rather than the plastic cube that I found odd).

B. It made me feel sick the first few times I used it. It felt a bit like having travel sickness without the travel. Admittedly having used it a bit more this is getting better.

C. Packaging: the beauty about Apple is their absolute attention to every small detail. Google Glass on the other hand is ill thought out, comes in two fairly big boxes (which then didn’t fit in the carrier bags they had so I ended up with two of them as well). There is nothing enchanting about the way it is packaged nor do you get that sense of anticipation that you get when opening Apple products (and I am not an apple fan). The case you get for glass is not very practical and far too bulky and the lack of an actual plug (you just get the USB cable) is a bit frustrating. It would have been nice to have had a case where everything clicked into place rather than just loosely placed.

D. Aesthetics aside the design of the frames is also a bit odd. The flexibility of the frame means it is very robust however the lack of any ability to close the glass frame is stupid as it removes the portability. When added to the laptop and tablet, the whole combination is very bulky.

E. Functionality: it’s benefit and it’s burden. Current functions are limited and sometimes feel cumbersome in the way you have to operate them. Equally it is part of the positives – whilst the current apps and functions are not great the opportunity and possibilities are clearly endless.

Despite all of the above there is a sense of excitement that surrounds Glass. Once you have got used to the operational commands (you can either voice activate or touch and swipe the right side of the glass frame) and the TV image appears in front of you, you start to understand what google are looking to achieve. The speech recognition is impressive (although my Stoke accent clearly caused it some confusion), sending texts and emails is a breeze and searching on Google is fun as the results come through and a synthetic voice just about your right ear reads out the results.

The apps are still in their infancy although the translation app is superb. Carrying out some research on Russia’s data storage legislation found a number of Russian sites. Focusing google glass saw a very quick and impressive translation appear in the view screen.

There is an inevitable concern over privacy although with wearable tech watches and ever growing functionality of mobile phones it is difficult to see that google glass does anymore than reinforce an existing problem. The cube just above the right eye lights up when in use so arguably it is more obvious than the surreptitious use of the camera on something like the Galaxy Gear.

I have no doubt the novelty will wear off but glass offers a fascinating insight to where things are going. Debates over privacy, purpose and extent of when it should/should not be used will rage but for the time being I will enjoy uploading inane texts to Evernote and using the shazam app to identify music and show me the lyrics……

Net neutrality – is this the end of the level playing field…..

The debate about net neutrality continues to gather momentum. The FCC watered down approach to permit “commercial reasonable” deals will see the start (albeit constrained) two lane internet. The ability to degrade one service to provide a premium service to others is going to undermine one of the primary foundation stones of the internet – openness.

Whilst the above is a US debate and time will tell how it pans out, the fact remains that once we allow an end to net neutrality no matter how small the “right” is – we will see a change to the way the internet operates. Lawyers will no doubt argue over what constitutes “commercially reasonable” but the damage will be done.

The internet should be open and built on a fair and equal basis. Time is running out but hopefully the FCC and consequently other governments will recognize the importance of net neutrality and end any discretion.

By 2207gsm Posted in Tech

Anti Piracy proposal misses the point…..

….and achieves nothing. According to the BBC a deal between the ISPs and the internet industry will see a watered down “educational” letter sent to individuals illegally downloading content. All sounds great and the ISPs must be breathing a huge sigh of relief that they have avoided the draconian measures initially proposed under the Digital Economy Act (“DEA“). Equally, it is understood that the entertainment industry have secured an agreement to “rapid implementation” of the DEA if this softly, softly approach doesn’t work.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-27330150

However, no matter who feels they got the best deal here, the point has been missed. Copyright law already provides adequate mechanisms to deal with infringement and this half hearted compromise adds little. This has been highlighted with a number of recent victories for the entertainment sector in blocking file sharing sites.

The problem is not the law – the problem is the archaic approach from the entertainment industry to recognise and adapt to the changing environment. There will always be individuals who will do whatever they can to avoid having to pay for anything but equally many of us are more than happy to pay provided that it is fair and reasonable. The incomprehensible licences, the silly fee pricing and the lack of recognition that we now live in a global world are all encouraging individuals to ignore legitimate systems.

If the entertainment industry want to protect their intellectual capital then they need to stop simply trying to encourage a change in the law but instead to do what all businesses are having to do in the internet era – adapt. Lets see a proper and realistic pricing model, lets see more adaptable licensing structures that recognise that individuals have access to multiple devices and lets see a recognition that if something is shown in the US – people may want to watch it very soon after…….

By 2207gsm Posted in Tech

When will they learn…..

As a lawyer it pains me to admit that the only real victors in the “back and forth” patent wars is……yep, the lawyers. The latest “victory” for Apple saw the tech giant awarded nearly $120m against Samsung. Sounds great but the original claim from Apple ran into the billions and in part here lies the problem. The patent system whether in the US or the UK is overly complicated and allows defendant and claimant to embark on claim, counter claim and generally accuse each other of wrong-doing. Net impact….. the lawyers keep on charging.

The Apple v Samsung case is just the latest in a series of armed warfare by both parties and it is hard to understand which of them feels victim or victor anymore. The patent system needs to be simplified and parties encouraged to work together. The US IP systems much more open approach to technology patents is partially to blame for encouraging parties to register and claim every aspect of their ideas which has a tendency to see the sublime, the ridiculous and the actual innovative all given the chance to register.

Anyway – no doubt the bell for round 6, 7 or whatever we are on now will soon ring and both Samsung and Apple will commence battle. Somehow I foresee a score draw for them both (lawyers excluded).

By 2207gsm Posted in Tech

Pirate sites continue to close but…..

is this really resolving the problem? The closure of IsoHunt and the $110,000,000+ in damages is another victory for the music and movie industry and highlights that copyright infringement law in its current guise is sufficiently robust to tackle the major infringers. However, as we all know from the past experience of Megaupload, Napster and Piratebay – as one site shuts another is inevitably set up. A number of countries including the UK continue to look at ways to attack the problem from the end-user side with things like “three strikes and your out” methods being a popular approach to discourage the lowly individual from embarking on file sharing.

The problem with the above (irrespective of whether it is the user or the provider that is attacked) is that both the music and movie industry are failing to address the underlining cause. There will always be people that look for something for nothing so irrespective of legal or technical solutions that are adopted – infringement will continue.

However, we live in a global world now where individuals are looking for more flexibility in what they watch and listen to and where and when they can do it. The industry needs to adapt to the changing habits and needs of its customers and rather than constantly trying to deal with the issue by the stick – what we all need is the carrot. Instant access (and not just streaming but also downloading!) that removes geographical boundaries for a reasonable and controlled cost will be as equal a deterrent from illegal file sharing as any expensive legal action.

So whilst the closure of file sharing sites will no doubt continue  pace – lets remove or restrict the need for them and have the industry listen to its customers and adapt. #ITlegal

By 2207gsm Posted in Tech

HMV – RIP

According to the BBC website, digital media is now seen as “mainstream”. No idea what makes something mainstream but seems to me that downloading (whether legal or illegal) has been “mainstream” for some time. Yes – I accept that some will still prefer the look and feel of physical media (my mum still rues the downfall of vinyl) and will inevitably remain with die-hard intransigence committed to buying from the high street BUT do we really think that CDs etc have a future? As we all look to access digital media on the move and with the slow but eventual role out of 4G – the CD has little value other than nostalgia. HMV simply failed to adapt and whilst it is sad to see another house hold known brand bite the dust, businesses that fail to adapt will inevitably fail. So it is with sadness that I say RIP HMV and thank God that Spotify is coming to Windows 8!

By 2207gsm Posted in Tech