Thursday, September 28, 2006

Demographics and House Prices

Reading this BBC article on still-rising UK house prices, I'm reminded of this New Yorker article that Phil linked to a few weeks ago. In particular, note how the "previous" generation is helping out the current gen:

The building society suggests that many first-time buyers are being helped to get a foot on the property ladder by their parents remortgaging their own properties to cash in on rising house prices and giving their offspring a deposit.

Each month almost as many people remortgage their homes - borrowing more while staying put - as borrow to actually move house.

My rough memory of British demographics recalls something of a post-war baby boom. Is it possible that this demographic boom is now coming into its own - has paid off its mortgages and is able to provide some fresh economic input, partially fuelling (along with some other factors) the current house price bouyancy?

Note also the quote "A growing number of people have missed mortgage payments recently," - perhaps an indicator that the remortgaging activities above act as a "catalyst" for more house buying, but not necessarily as guarantee that mortgages following the initial buy will be paid back?

Note: plot house prices against population size. Might it be possible to predict when this boom will end? What would happen if so?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Couple of Guardian links

No more cash for Iraq war, Bush told by army.

Three retired senior military officers yesterday accused Mr Rumsfeld of bungling the war on Iraq, and said the Pentagon was "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically". Major General Paul Eaton, a retired officer who was in charge of training Iraq troops, said: "Mr Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making."

Britain's boom coming from financial services ... and the general gravitation towards London continues.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Examples of the future of social spaces

Some links following on from my post about the future of media-networking servcies:

- David Wilcox: "Social networking gets political". Given that UK democracy is essentially a competitive, attention-seeking system, I think that much of the same arguments about attention, branding and their integration with provision of service are applicable in a political context too. Do the Tories want to provide a social service to discuss their policies, or to appear as a "trendy" service provider? Will Labour warp into an ISP?

- New Statesman: "The battle for YouTube" outlines a possible YouTube future:

...insiders at MTV say that close thought has been given to how the content and format of YouTube should be altered in the event of a takeover. Users will be allowed to continue generating the content, but the company is determined to "raise the bar" for quality of material and the way it is presented. They will want to find corporate sponsors, even if at present much of the unedited footage on YouTube includes people sitting on the toilet (would Estée Lauder be keen on that?). The anarchy of the site will be organised into new "mini-channels", regulated by the new owners, but still allowing the wacky content providers in.

(Also interesting is the "Listen" functionality on the New Statesman article, vaguely.)

Flickr/Flock Test

Originally uploaded by scribex.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Symbol Meets World

An article from the other day entitled "Truth or illusion: What's real on YouTube?" (via /.) raises issues over what is "real", in comparison to what is created merely to sell things. With the importance placed on "user-generated content" (U-GC) in the drive for a new media paradigm, new questions are raised: Does an entangling of corporacy or simple promotion with "honest" content threaten the paradigm? Or does it enhance it somehow, lending credence to it and providing evidence that here is a new model that, to some extent, is capable of bending traditional promotion to its will?

Only a naive fool could insist that such "upward" content could remain free of the influence of "promotional deception", and that a "truth" of an ethical production value could be maintained without complications. The history of viral advertising and the infiltration of social network recommendation (see, ironically, this book, for instance*) show that the simple provision of "false" media is probably the least of our worries, alongside the "rewarding" (read "buying") of socialite kids to brainlessly promote products, in exchange for both freebies and social capital.

It is this latter which brings the matter full circle. Here's the rub, and the crux that makes the whole "infection of user-generated content" idea so gnarly. The fact is that the new media paradigm wouldn't be possible without an already existant brand-saturated culture. In other words, the vast majority of user-generated content - the volume with which YouTube, MySpace, etc depend upon to maintain some future - is built up around the "branding" of the people involved. Reviews, comments, demonstrations, novelty sneak-peeks, even "what I like" lists... We define ourselves according to what we buy, what we watch and what we listen to, and so our communications, and our "social indicators" (i.e. things that say "who will like me?") reflect this utterly.

Take a look at the YouTube most favourited videos, for example. It's a good bet that at any given time, at least half of the list will contain copyrighted footage, references to video games, spoofs of pop culture, and so on. Truly "original" content - possibly the utopia that those who espouse U-GC are aiming for in a bid to undo the large corps of the world - is often lacking, and when it does come along, it usually gets bought up by one of the big boys anyway. If not, it is at least 99% likely that such talent recognises itself, which today means that such talent also brands itself and wrestles with the possibility of "making it big" anyway.

This is not to say, of course, that upward content is doomed or anything. On the contrary, it has never truly been "free" either. What we should expect to see is a far more subtle direction and misdirection of this content from both within and without "recognised" moral boundaries over what is advertising and what isn't. Creating false content isn't "morally" a sin - indeed, a lot of the time, when it turns out that some content is actually a "false" promotion, people are pretty impressed with the blurring if the line. ("Nice, but fake.") The "sin" is when people feel duped into believing a person is a person, as with lonelygirl15 in the original article. The new/old adage of "on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog" is true, only now, nobody knows you're a multinational company with a 7-digit special effects budget. The "faceless" corporation, man, has many, many faces. If you knew your best friend was being paid to invite people along to see a film, would you still go? Would they be your friend? If your life is defined by marketing, then the answer is probably "yes" to both - because hanging out with people in contact with a brand is cool, man.

Don't expect the blurriness to go away though. YouTube must be sweating it a little, what with videos being policed and copyright infringement being cracked own on. That fuzzy line might just turn round and bite them which, in turn, doesn't necessarily help out the people who's content U-GC relies upon - i.e. the people doing the suing. But the media leviathons have enough in place to weather the storm. As mentioned, nobody's stopping them from infiltrating good ol' fashioned social networks.

I think the outcome of all of this will be one the 2.0 utopians will be disheartened by, and it will come about partly because they** just don't want to think about it. Just as it's hard enough to discern between "legal" (i.e. royalty-free) music swapping and "illegal" swapping, so it's just as hard to discern between "legal" (either according to law, or according to morality) content and "illegal" (either infringing or "false") content, partially because there is no such gap. technology confuses the issue, and makes it sound like you can come up with a definitive technological "fix" to contrast the two. But how can you differentiate when, in the "reality" of culture, there is no difference? The only way to draw on such an "infringement" culture is to allow everything.

This is why YouTube, and any other service that relies on cultural U-GC, will need to morph - because it makes explicit and centralises that which can only exist in an informal, truly decentralised manner. Corporates still "own" new media paradigms in the sense that business models depend on popularity, popularity depends on infringement, and infringement is decided by law which, in turn, is often decided by the corporates. New social networks do not "break free" of traditional media or culture. They feed off it, and as such are entirely circumscribed and within the grip of it.

Expect, then, the integration of business with networking to expand. Expect "advertising" to shift to "ownership", just as MySpace has been bought up, just as Microsoft and Apple are keen to promote their own distribution networks. Expect "review" sites to take up the challenge, but never forget that many review sites are often kept sweet after getting various freebies. Expect U-GC to become contextual, sanitised, and self-censored according to which network it's aimed at and posted in. Companies will no longer need to "fake" content, because they will simply own all the content. The battle will (once again) be in attracting people to a service through word of mouth.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

* The first reference that comes to mind, anyway. Actually, the book was a little feeble, all told.
** The curse of a idealised, generalised, abstractised demographic strikes again. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Paris in the McSpring

Paris Hilton is a platform - outgoing links are her success.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Rational Pope

Following the shenanigans around the Pope's recent comments, I read the whole speech (linked to from this BBC article). The Pope was addressing the University of Regensburg, which lists a school of catholic theology amongst its departments, and I assume this was where the Pope's talk was aimed at, and where he attended in the past.

The talk is interesting, and not (just/necessarily) for its media-stirring passages. The whole notion of the integration of Rationality, Faith and Ethics is touched upon (lightly - it's only just over 6 pages long...), and in a sense, the overall message is encouraging to me - as a semi-rational, semi-spiritual entity.

Talks are naturally always directed at the immediate audience, and I'm sure many other talks (I can think of a few by Tony Blair...) take on disproportionate significance when interpreted outside of the original context. However the main message in this one is a call for greater "acceptance" of extra-scientific discourse within traditionally "purely" scientific environments of academia (as I read it...)

In other words, our oft-blind acceptance of science as a rational, neo-alternative to blind faith-based religion should be reconsidered - not only in terms of its links to the ethical and philosophical quandaries thrown up by this science, but also in terms of the nature of this science itself. In other words, there is a legitimate ground to question the idea that scientific methods themselves are any less of an investment in faith than religion.

No, that's wrong actually. Or, at least, ambiguous - misleading. To break it down:

On one hand, the Pope is attempting to declare a boundary of science, and a position of religion relative to this. That is, there are many things we do not know but that are of extreme importance (science != ethics, for example). Hence, a world built solely - or primarily - atop science (and, but not necessarily) technology will be a world devoid of answers to many of these things. Possibly my quote of the day, the Pope puts this as:

'A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.'
The definition of the term "religion" here is replaceable, perhaps advisably so given the apparent stigma surrounding it in this age. Perhaps notions of 'humanity', an existential theme of emotion and non-"rational", yet utterly pervasive, behaviour is how many might prefer to read this.

So a call for more philosophical science - surely a good thing although something that seems to be largely ignored by those (usually) with profit to gain from progress.

The second factor, on the other hand, is an idea that science itself shares some or much of the same values as religion - namely, a subordination of the individual to laws external to it:
'The scientific ethos, moreover, is ... the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit.'
That is, I read, the faith in an unchanging constancy underlying the omniverse is the same as the faith in some higher order, whether human-shaped or not. That is, the scientific desire to know how things work is analagous to a personal desire to know something exists on a higher level than us. Thus, scientific faith sets limits for what we are able to do, while religious faith sets limits on what we should be able to do. While one is 'physical' and one is 'ethical', and a vast field could be concocted (and no doubt already has been) to both diverge and unite the two, the important point is that the attitude of the individual in the respective directions is extremely similar. Science is a therapy for our inability to shape the world as we would like, religion is a therapy for our inability to shape ourselves.

There are some further interesting lines in the talk on the various stages of Christianity, its hellenisation, dehellenisation and its dependence on science. (I'm reminded of Foucault's idea that "science" during the time of the plague was responsible for dislocating much of the "non-rational" religion of the time.)

Of note also is the idea of "community" in each realm too - does science provide an objective, shared understanding which is capable of bringing people together under the same banner, or does it establish an in-depth understanding of the world that not only is increasingly removed from the common ability to understand it, but that detracts from our need to come together to make decisions? Similarly, is religion a personal, subjective, and ultimately non-group activity, or does it provide room for (intepretive, yet potentially rational) discourse within which communities can thrive?

I'm not really sure whether a Pope driving for more rational "analysis" of faith is a good or bad thing. I suspect that it's neither and/or both, that all things will be revealed in time, and that you can't judge these things at all from a talk directed at a small university department.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Back and gone.

Huzzah, Blogger have restored access to my blog, so I can post again. But I'm off on holiday til next weekend, so something will have to come along after that. Been reading a lot of stuff about interactivity, politics and networks and stuff, so some interesting links and ideas coming out of that, plus I still have to write some stuff on the Perplex City ARG.

Have a good week...