Q&A: Ed and Sarah Rogers, Riverhill Gardens

Restoration: Riverhill Gardens

Channel 4’s Country House Rescue, for me, is all about the best of British: our long-standing architectural heritage preserved and sympathetically modernised for future generations to enjoy.

Collectively, these programmes symbolise the conservation of a heritage that lies at the heart of Britain, anchoring it as a place of unique historical distinction, allowing for progress whilst maintaining a sense of identity.

Author Bill Bryson once wrote: ‘The biggest attraction in Britain is Britain – the whole package. Our heritage is not just a collection of ornaments scattered across the country, it is Britain itself and makes us gloriously distinguishable from any other country.’

Each week, Country House Rescue gives the viewer a snapshot of one such ‘ornament’ that, in its own individual way, makes Britain, well, Britain.

Last week’s episode of the programme was a revisit to the house Riverhill Gardens, a stunning property happily located in the heart of a Himalayan garden in Kent.

Owned by the family for two centuries, I was particularly struck by the enthusiasm of owners Ed and Sarah Rogers when listening to presenter Ruth Watson’s advice on maintaining the house and grounds, which ultimately meant major changes in way of life for the four generations living on the estate.

It was this enthusiasm and acceptance of change that prompted me to message the couple via Twitter, to find out more about their experience by way of a Q&A.

Below are the responses:

How did your being on Channel 4’s Country House Rescue come about?

The ‘Betty’ production team approached us in March 2009 to ask whether we would be interested. It came at a good time for us as we urgently needed more income to maintain and restore the house & gardens. They then filmed us over eight days during 2009. The first programme aired, March 2010, after which they filmed Re-visited in October 2010. Revisited aired last week.

With the additional facets Ruth Watson’s advice has conceived at Riverhill, what new challenges have you had to deal with in terms of running the estate?

The challenge of being open to the public more often. Prior to ‘re-launch’ the gardens were only open one day a week for three months of the year. We are now open five days a week, six months of the year and there is demand for us to be open in the Autumn!

Balancing family home & family life (there are four generations at Riverhill), while opening to visitors. Ed and I both have ‘full time’ other jobs (Ed works in London, I have 4 children to look after)

Several strands to the business – cafe, shop, garden opening, events, weddings, marketing – not to mention staff and volunteers – a steep learning curve!

When considering what changes to make, how do you decide on a cut-off point so as not to compromise the integrity of the house and gardens, and, indeed, the efforts of your ancestors?

Clear policy of only doing things at Riverhill which we ourselves like as a family. First and foremost this is a family garden (not a tourist attraction). We are just lucky that so many people love it as much as we do. Den building trail and adventure playground outside of the gardens. House only open to pre-booked groups of 20+.

You’re up and running on Twitter now. How do you plan on using digital media to help raise awareness of Riverhill Gardens?

We are very new to Twitter, but we are already seeing its value. We plan to use Facebook and Twitter to talk to new and existing customers about future events, progress of renovations, what’s looking good in the gardens, what is happening now at Riverhill etc. We have also found new contacts that we can share experiences with, and each learn from, and potential new suppliers to our café/shop such as a specialist tea company. We feel our use of digital media will evolve, as we become more experienced in using it.

Going forward, it was suggested on the programme that some additional activities were to be added to those already on offer. Can you outline some of the new plans that visitors might expect next season when visiting?

Since the revisited programme, which was filmed in October 2010, we have already:

Expanded Adventure playground & added ‘Yeti Burrow’
Re-built Southern Kitchen Garden Wall
Expanded range of ‘Family Fun’ activities – to include Rock UK activities.

Ready for 2012, we plan to:

Restore & replant Rose Walk
Start work on landscaping & replanting walled garden
Introduce range of Adult activities & events (e.g Botanical Art classes, photography treks, pilates & lattes)

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Q&A: Victoria Buckley, academic – digital’s effect on research

Technophile: Victoria Buckley

Digital has revolutionised many sectors, democratising content and providing access to resources otherwise unavailable.

Victoria Buckley is in the final stages of a PhD at the University of Sussex and talks to me about what online communities have done for academic research; the Bard, digitised; and the pitfalls of not being selective when choosing one’s sources.

Can you sum up your PhD topic in 140 characters?

I’ll certainly try. I’m looking at the impact of the Gunpowder Plot on Jacobean Drama 1605-15. Did I manage?

Have you found online communities to be helpful in assisting you with such an esoteric research subject?

I think online communities such as Twitter are an invaluable resource for researchers.

Through Twitter I’ve been able to connect with academics from all over the place, and although very few have contributed directly to the body of my research, contact with the online research community has proved extremely useful. Notification about conferences, symposiums, new books published in my field etc. are instantaneous on Twitter, in comparison with reading such information via more traditional avenues.

Of course you have to be following the right people in the first place, but the sheer
number of excellent new articles, databases, and emerging electronic collections
means Twitter is one of my primary sources for discovering new activity in my
particular area. Essentially early modernists are all swimming around in the same
material, so even if research interests are different there are always crossovers.

What advantages/disadvantages has the digital age provided the academic community?

I think the digital age has been greeted with almost universal welcome, although there are of course those academics that prefer the more traditional approaches and resist the advances of technology!

There are huge benefits to digital humanities, such as the growth of online academic communities, shared resources, and speed. The speed at which I can now find a book or journal article is astonishing.

When I first began my Master’s degree a lot of my research was paper-based and involved inter-library loans, and schlepping to libraries. Now I can access almost any article I need at the touch of a button.

I think there are probably some disadvantages too. Information overload can be a problem, and I do worry that some traditional methodologies may be dying out. A facsimile copy of a 17th century book just cannot compete with handling the real thing at the British Library. Some aspects of what an early modern text can tell us are lost when we only view a virtual copy. Kateryn Parr’s prayer book for example is not very remarkable in PDF, but when you see the real thing, its tiny size, and the cramped printed letters, you get a real sense of the expensive nature of paper in the 16th century and the craftsmanship of the bookbinders.

I think lots of universities have been quick to embrace digital research but many may not yet have caught up with the explosion of micro-networking sites and the age of the blog.

Does the democratisation of information online mean that there are now too
many resources to plough through when working on a PhD?

In some senses, definitely. When it comes to academic research, one disadvantage of online information is that anyone can set up a website and market themselves as an expert. There are thousands of websites devoted to both Shakespeare and the early modern period, and it’s very important to be selective.

If I was interested in researching Elizabethan shoes or hairclips, I might have a quick look at some blogs on historical clothing, but I’d also know, (or find out!) which historian I really ought to turn to for a definitive answer. And as yet, and perhaps thankfully, the most authoritative information on the period is still published primarily in books rather than in online content.

There is a lot of misinformation out there in cyberspace and people shouldn’t rely on Wikipedia. I marked an undergraduate paper on Hamlet, in which a footnote read ‘www.askjeeves.com/what is the renaissance?’ which I think is probably a good example of the need to be selective when it comes to online sources!

Can you identify any interesting projects/campaigns where social media has been used in conjunction with an academic project?

I was involved in just such a project recently. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust created a digital project called 60 Minutes For Shakespeare in support of Shakespeare as the author of his works. 60 scholars, myself included, were each given a different question to answer in relation to the Authorship debate. We recorded our answers via Audioboo and the project went live last month and is accessible from all over the world; it’s intended to be a permanent resource for schools and universities, indeed for anyone interested in Shakespeare.

The whole thing was publicised primarily on Twitter and blogs to great effect. I really think it’s a fascinating example of how academic research and social media can work together.

Can you share any sites/online resources that help you streamline your research techniques?

I simply couldn’t work without EBBO (Early English Books Online), an invaluable database of English books printed between 1473 and 1700. Each book has been digitised and tagged, which enables multiple search functionalities. Effectively this means that for my own research I can download a number of early modern books in either PDF or plain text format to my desktop. Without EBBO I’d spend my life in the British Library laboriously reading through a physical copy of each book.

I also rely on JSTOR, a database of academic journal articles published across all disciplines.

My other favourite is Zotero, a freely available tool that enables me to build a virtual database of sources, books, notes, bibliographies, woodcuts and so on. It’s linked into Firefox and can be used as an Add On in Microsoft Word for Mac.

The other recommendation I’d probably make is Dropbox, which is also free. Having lost six months of research after a computer crash I’ve become quite fanatical about backing up my work. Dropbox is really easy to use and means I can drop work into a folder on my desktop which I can then access online from any computer. It even works in conjunction with my iPhone!

Victoria Buckley blogs on everyday life in 17th century London

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A cut above the rest: digital goes haute couture at Burberry

The term ‘heritage brand’ doesn’t necessarily evoke futuristic imagery but in the case of British fashion house Burberry, at this season’s London Fashion Week, it was clear that this is a brand looking forward, not merely blowing dust off its past glories.

Before the show commenced, I tweeted the label asking if we could expect digital fireworks. The response didn’t come until a day later: unsurprisingly when one saw the digital content on display both at the show and, more importantly, disseminated virtually throughout the social media space.

I’ve written before about the missed opportunity that fashion, in particular, has experienced within the digital sphere, with notable exceptions such as designer Hussein Chalayan, but Burberry wasn’t measuring itself against the fashion yard-stick this season, rather the hard-line required for a more stratospheric trajectory in the galaxy of those stellar, super-brands.

The key to successful digital marketing is sharing, and share Burberry did.

In addition to live video streaming to its eight million fans on Facebook, with additional content being shown on the brand’s YouTube channel, Burberry really innovated this week.

Partnering with social networking platform Twitter, the world’s first ‘Twitterwalk’ was established, combining a description and Twitpic of each look before it took to the catwalk, resulting in the brand trending globally.

In addition, top photographer Mike Kus was asked to take over the Burberry Instagram site, uploading backstage shots, catwalk looks and front-row-celeb snaps, all of which could be passed around the web, amongst those sartorial followers and beyond.

One of the key risks for a strategy that included so many facets was the marginalisation of the product that was being marketed, itself. But at the centre of each piece of online content came the clothes and accessories, ensuring the main story being shared always came back to the heart of the brand, ultimately its heritage.

It seems ironic that an industry filled with such trail-blazers missed acting upon the digital trend earlier, but it was perhaps this missed trick that allowed arrogance to prevail in a business that claims to set trends rather than follow them.

Thankfully, however, with the bar set so high this season by such a fashion giant, others will hopefully follow and innovate themselves, which fills me with great excitement as to what we can look forward to at the Autumn/Winter 2012 shows next year.

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Q&A: Caroline Shenton, Chief Archivist, UK Parliamentary Archives

Archives aren’t usually places associated with digital technology but UK Parliamentary Archives Chief Archivist, Caroline Shenton, blows the dust off the myths and tells me a very different tale.

What would a typical day (if such a thing exists!) be like for you at work in the UK Parliamentary Archives?

I usually read my emails first thing with breakfast from the canteen, but then my day in the Parliamentary Archives is often a mixture of chairing boards (or representing the Archives on information or heritage projects across Parliament). I might have a catch-up with one of my deputies, or be hosting a visit from some VIPs. For example, a few weeks ago 25 Chinese archivists came on a fact finding tour. Today I was filmed for Parliament Week’s YouTube channel, talking about our records and democracy. Last week we hosted a reception for new inscriptions to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register  (similar to world heritage status, but for historic records).

Like most senior managers I spend quite a lot of time in front of budget spreadsheets and policy documents, but I still try to keep in touch with our amazing historic records and our users when I can.

You have a strategy in place to digitise the archives. What have you found to be the key challenges in implementing this strategy?

Our strategy focuses on records of interest to family and local historians which are
underused. Preparation is everything with digitisation; it’s not just about slinging stuff onto a scanner. So our work so far has been to install the right kit, get the metadata sorted out, and create a digital repository to preserve the images. All that is well underway, so the actual digitising will begin soon…

The Parliamentary Archives has incorporated social media into its communications strategy. What are the key objectives in using social media?

We’re trying to connect with an audience that otherwise we wouldn’t get to, and it’s also much easier and quicker to respond to topical stories using Facebook and Twitter than only using the web. We can also retweet tweets from our partners inside and outside Parliament, such as other archives. It’s all about developing a community of users interested in us and our work.

In what ways do policy within parliament or, indeed, policy specific to the archives inhibit your use of social media?

We can be more informal using @UKParlArchives (and I tweet personally from
@dustshoveller) than other channels, but the tweets have to be politically impartial. It’s
important that Parliamentary staff remain neutral so we can do our jobs effectively at
Westminster. Sometimes people don’t understand that.

What have been your personal career highs whilst working at the archives?

Well, I was delighted that President Obama enjoyed the display of documents about
American Independence we put on for him when he visited Parliament earlier this year. We got out the 1765 Stamp Act for him which kicked off all the trouble in those pesky colonies, and we also have a copy of the Declaration of Independence used in a Parliamentary debate at the time. We sent him a facsimile of that.

I also loved our celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Tower repository last year, especially the virtual tour and the book we produced.

Do you have any particular favourite documents/anecdotes contained within documents you could share?

With three million records it’s hard to choose; our holdings include some of the most
important constitutional documents in the UK, including Charles I ‘s death warrant, the Bill of Rights and the Great Reform Act. But at the moment I’m just completing a book on the 1834 fire that burnt down the Houses of Parliament, so my favourite at present is a letter written at 3.30 in the morning by Frances Rickman, who lived in the Palace of Westminster, telling her sister about how the family survived the disaster. That’s a wonderful survival, in every sense.

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BREAKING NEWS: made you look!

I think it’s safe to say, following the recent riots in the UK, that many of us were glued to our screens as we watched the 24- hour news channels play a small selection of amateur videos, on repeat, of the horrific incidents taking place on our streets.

Round and round it went, as the news anchor shifted between piece-to-camera and cyclic interviews of the channel’s seemingly limited ‘men on the ground’.

I can’t speak for others but what really frustrated me, as the news played in the background on the television, was that the ubiquitous banner ‘BREAKING NEWS’ appeared throughout the entire broadcast.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but surely the idea is that one breaks the news and if no substantial update is provided within a certain time period, one removes the banner until new information is available.

My biggest issue with this is that there was breaking news to be found.

Despite David Cameron taking to the microphone, as the violence simmered down, to blame social media for catalysing the coordination of the unrest, these online channels, supposedly utilised by the conspiratorial underworld, were broadcasting the ‘BREAKING NEWS’ that major media channels should, and audaciously claimed to, have been covering.

Journalists, such as the great Paul Lewis of the Guardian, were physically ploughing through scenes reminiscent of Mad Max, capturing the events as they unfolded, on whichever medium they had to hand, and sharing this information via social media channels, such as Twitter.

This provided a news outlet, yes, but, more importantly, a public service that I’m quite sure kept many people safe from harm’s way.

So, what value does the ‘BREAKING NEWS’ banner actually bring to a story?

It certainly serves the channel well, capturing the attention of viewers and holding them, fixed to their screens, ensuring the ratings are maintained.

From personal experience, it also serves the egos of the newsroom journalist when terms like ‘breaking’ and ‘exclusive’, an issue for another post, start getting thrown around.

But isn’t it too often used as a misguided and lazy idiom, misleading viewers in a way that, in many arenas, would not be accepted by the respective regulating bodies?

What are your thoughts?

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Communication: vital for Tottenham community to start healing, following riot

Having watched the events in Tottenham as they unfolded last night, prompted, of course, by Twitter, I couldn’t help but think about what it is that brings a community to a boiling point, seeing the pan tip and its contents spill over, causing destruction as it goes.

There has been a lot said in the media about the possible reasons for this happening; of course, the shooting of Mark Duggan last week, reports of a 16-year-old girl being beaten by the police during the protest, and even the withdrawal of youth clubs in the local area.

But I want to focus on the healing process, something that takes time but needs to be helped along in the right way from the outset to be effective.

A report in The Independent today, which holds a magnifying glass up to the Tottenham community’s reaction to the riot, quotes an unnamed, 18-year-old man, as saying: ‘Police know what they should have done, they should have come to speak to the community themselves. They don’t care.

‘You don’t get no opportunities around here. The police stop you because you’re black. They stop you because you’re wearing a hood.’

This seems to be a sentiment that was echoed through various reports, even before the protest and riot took place.

Now, of course, there are two sides to every story, and the police force has given its position. Met Police Commander, Adrian Hanstock, explained: ‘We kept a dignified presence at the vigil. Our preparation was in place and the contingence we had needed to be proportionate to the levels of concern we had in the community.’

There seems to be a level of disparity between the residents’ community concerns and those of the police force, which makes me question the communication channels being employed between the two parties and how well they are being used.

For this healing process to be a success, communication is vital. In the same way that the Brixton riots, during the 1980s, raised awareness of serious problems, in terms of the relationship between the police force and its local residents, I think there are lessons to be learned here too.

As local Tottenham MP, David Lammy, said in his statement: ‘A community that was already hurting has now had the heart ripped out of it.’

And so, heart must be put back in.

This doesn’t just fall to police engagement and resident cooperation, local businesses should also be lending a helping hand here.

There are great CSR opportunities for major brands, some of which, O2, Aldi, JJB Sport to name a few, have been directly affected by what happened during the violence last night, seeing shops burnt out and stock looted.

These companies, if not already, should be working in the local community to help get it get back on its feet, through developing partnerships with local resident associations and the police themselves.

It’s about looking to that old sense of community, which, effectively, benefits everyone.

Awful things have happened, they can’t be undone, but it’s about looking to how the Tottenham community can now set about healing itself.

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Guest post: Meltwater CEO Jorn Lyseggen on Court of Appeal online content licensing ruling

Further to the blog post I wrote here earlier this week, I’d like to introduce Meltwater group CEO, Jorn Lyseggen, who has kindly written a guest blog post to give further insight into the Appeal Court ruling for the case of NLA versus Meltwater Group and the PRCA over online content licensing.

UK  ruling makes internet browsing a copyright risk, rendering innocent acts of millions illegal

Browsing is the digital equivalent of reading. When you consume the content of a book, you read it. When you consume content online, you browse it.

The wide ramifications of the ruling by the Court of Appeal two days ago on July 27th in the case NLA v Meltwater & PRCA is that the temporary digital copies a browser creates when opening a website will be a breach of copyright unless a license is granted by the rights holder. The ruling does address a lot of other copyright related issues specifically to the dispute between NLA and Meltwater & PRCA as well, but for the broader audience this aspect of the ruling is the most interesting to fully understand.

Why does this have wide ramifications?

The significance of this ruling is that if you live in UK, every time you click on an internet link you must have a license for every page you open. This is the case for every link you follow on the internet, any link people send to you by email, or any link you find on Twitter or Facebook.

This ruling is strikingly different from general practice that consider temporary digital copies from browsing as transient copies facilitating the transmission of a work and therefore part of the explicit exception in the Copyright law.

How do you know if you have the license from the right holder to open their page?

In many cases it is impossible to know ahead of time simply because you don’t know where a link will lead you and what page will be opened in your browser. Once you have opened the page, digital copies are created by your browser, one in the temporary internal computer memory and one on your screen, and by this point you are twice in breach of copyright according to the CoA ruling unless you have been granted a license to make copies of this page.

Many web sites do have a link to terms and conditions at the bottom of their page. Examples from the Guardian and the Telegraph, both NLA owners.
Both are tedious and long, but in general they grant you a “personal non-commercial use” licence.

The problem with terms and conditions of web pages

There are several fundamental problems with terms and conditions like those of the Guardian and the Telegraph.

Firstly, you don’t see them before you open the page and by this time the browser has already made a copy of the page.

Secondly, such terms are likely to change at any point in time without you being notified. Since you don’t see the terms before opening a page and the burden of finding and reading the t&c’s for every

page you open is too big of a burden to put on a user, can the right holder really hold you to these terms in the first place? If you haven’t been presented with them and you haven’t accepted them, are the terms binding at all?

Thirdly, the common terminology of a “personal non-commercial use” is very vague and poorly suited to give sufficient guidance to a user what one can or cannot do.

Why the ruling creates millions of UK copyright offenders

The consequence of the CoA ruling is that if you at work or in a work context open a web page with a “personal and non-commercial use only” license, you are in breach of copyright.

Should you be a journalist researching a story you are about to write, you are in breach of copyright.

If you are you an employee reading up on the latest news in your industry in the business section of an online newspaper like the Telegraph, you are in breach of copyright.

In the UK there are millions of employees every day that browse the internet to read news and other content online inadvertently becoming copyright offenders.

Why the UK is not served by this ruling

The UK society cannot be served by a copyright law that so fundamentally clashes with how millions of its citizens are using the internet every day. The ability to browse the internet without fear of infringing copyright is a fundamental internet principle. This principle has been one of the cornerstones for the successful development of the internet and all its associated business models.

As job creation and economic prosperity is becoming increasingly created by digital services and ecosystems, it would be devastating for UK and stifling for UK companies if such a fundamental principle is questioned.

Why Meltwater fights this cause

Meltwater is a Norwegian privately held software company offering online news and social media analytics to more than 20,000 clients globally. In late 2009, Meltwater brought a new licensing scheme aggressively pushed by the National Licensing Association, the NLA, to the Copyright Tribunal to rule on its reasonableness.

Meltwater has agreed to take a license with NLA for its own practice, but questioned the
reasonableness of NLA to request an additional license from each of our clients, collecting copyright fees for every article Meltwater’s service is pointing them to. Such licenses would apply to the clients of all players in our industry, and across UK thousands of companies would have to pay additional copyright fees if NLA got it their way.

Surprisingly, Meltwater was the only one to challenge NLA. The easiest for us would have been to roll over and pass the NLA fees on to our clients like all our competitors did, but we took this fight because we think what NLA is trying to do is WRONG. PRCA intervened in support of Meltwater and together we are doing everything we can to avoid that the clients of Meltwater will have to pay copyright licenses for articles that they themselves can read freely on the internet or, if license fees do have to be paid, to keep the cost to a reasonable level.

Last word is not said

This issue continues in two parallel tracks:

The wider principle CoA ruling classifying millions of Brits as copyright offenders will be appealed to the Supreme Court. It is an open question if they will look at it, but Meltwater will do everything it can to make it happen.

The specifics of the NLA license are scheduled to come up in the Copyright Tribunal in September later this year. Meltwater is confident that the Copyright Tribunal will rule the NLA licensing scheme over-reaching and unreasonable.

Final reflection

It is my personal opinion that the CoA ruling is a parenthesis in the history of UK copyright law.

Regardless of whether the Supreme Court is accepting our appeal or not, it is inconceivable that the CoA ruling will withstand the scrutiny of time. We will at some point shake our heads in disbelief by the thoughts of its absurdity and the strange and slightly entertaining copyright rulings of the early days of the internet.

Professor Lionel Bently, Herchel Smith Professor of Intellectual Property, Cambridge University, comments on the ruling as follows:

“…hereafter web-users surf the internet at their peril”

“…there is something fundamentally wrong with a legal regime which renders the innocent acts of many millions of citizens illegal.”

For more analysis of the case we recommend: Professor Bently’s full commentary; “Bently slams very disappointing ruling” in Meltwater and “Clippings ruling could derail much online publishing, says expert” by Outlaw.

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The case of the NLA versus Meltwater and the PRCA… and Mark Twain?

So, the much anticipated appeal case of the Meltwater Group and PRCA versus the NLA has come to a crashing pause. I say ‘pause’ as this issue is far from being put to rest with a Supreme Court referral already being planned by PRCA Director General, Francis Ingham.

In the supposedly black and white legal world, it would seem to some that the correct decision has been made but this does not make it the right decision.

As Mark Twain once said: ‘Only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.’

A statement as demonstrably true today as it was at the start of the 20th Century.

The ruling states that website users clicking on a link to a news article in a commercial setting will be held responsible for the infringement of copyright, unless the publisher holds a license for the content.

One of the key problems here is that the Law is struggling to keep up with the expeditious advances in technology and the uses that these advances are put to by millions of people globally, every day, in a rapidly evolving media landscape.

Laws are being put in place but it is the means by which to enforce these laws that become the problem, rendering the outcome of the hearing rather ineffectual.

As Ingham points out, based on the High Court ruling: ‘Millions of people were unwittingly infringing copyright on a daily basis.’

‘In our view it cannot stand and that is why we will proceed.’

And proceed they will.

With the UK Appeal Court modifying the contentious High Court ruling, which previously granted copyright protection for headlines as well as linked-to content, the PRCA and Meltwater Group can now proceed with the case to the Copyright Tribunal.

As Meltwater Group’s CEO, Jorn Lyseggen explains: ‘Last word in this case has not been said. We are confident that the Copyright Tribunal will rule the NLA licensing scheme is over-reaching and unreasonable.’

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Google + and the homogeny of social networking

As Google+ rocks up as the new cool kid at the social media party, stealing the glitter-ball-dazzle from Facebook, Twitter et al, it seems a good time to step back from those bright and colourful digital lights to consider its impact.

Having created a profile on Google+ and played a little with its various features, I fear that the impact, in terms of new attributes, at present, might be rather minimal.

What really became clear to me was that social networking appears, merely, to be homogenising rather than diversifying.

The age of innovation, from a front-end, user perspective, appears to be plateauing with the race for key digital players to create the ‘ultimate’ social networking platform, yet another holy grail that doesn’t exist, which can only lead to disappointment.

Facebook, at its inception, integrated a series of features to create its online platform, enabling users to connect and engage with friends and family. But it certainly was never a complete offering.

However, as new platforms such as Twitter and FourSquare appeared on the scene, suddenly there was a need to start driving things forward again. And so came the developments to integrate features similar to those that Twitter offered to the Facebook profile page and, of course, Facebook Places.

Still, no real innovation, more just a copy-cat exercise, in my view, to ‘keep up’.

In the same way, Twitter responded to FourSquare with its own defence to the geolocation war, creating an API to pinpoint where tweeters tweet from. Again, an exercise in treading water rather than demonstrating positive strokes.

Enter Google+.

I have to say I expected more. What is offered by Google+ is merely a repackaged version of the products that Google already offered, with elements of Facebook and Twitter bolted on.

Credit where credit is due, it is certainly more user friendly, but this product could, and more importantly should, have been released a long time ago. I’m afraid it’s far from groundbreaking.

Only weeks after the launch of Google+, Facebook made the announcement that it will be partnering with Microsoft-owned Skype to provide video chat – a feature already offered on Google+ and previously already present within the Google product portfolio.

Alongside this, Twitter announced plans to integrate a Facebook-style ‘wall’ feature, whereby users can write directly to friends’ from their respective profiles.

In both of the above cases, nothing new, no innovation and creativity, just more defensive behaviour in the battle for social networking supremacy: the race for a sort of digital gestalt.

The vision has become so focused on the marketing and monetising of these, now, super-brands, that the essence of what they were when they first went live has been lost.

So, let’s turn the spotlights down a smidge on the cool kids and redirect some of that attention to the geeks. After all, without them, this is a party that would never have started.

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The future: social TV commentary?

While I sit and watch, what has so far been, a really very exciting Wimbledon men’s final, my enjoyment has been somehow tarnished by the appalling quality of the commentary from the BBC – especially the inane comments coming from Andrew Castle, a man who made it further in Strictly Come Dancing than a Grand Slam singles tennis tournament.

This got me thinking about the need for commentary, in the broadcast sense, as it is used now and how it might be evolved.

With the rise of social television and the innovative uses for social media, in conjunction with broadcast media, there is no reason why we, the viewer, shouldn’t choose the people and organisations we trust and enjoy to inform and entertain us through those all important games and matches.

The Wimbledon Twitter feed has been particularly good this year, providing ‘back stage’ photos and fun snippets along with informed commentary. As well as this, there have been many blogs, some great radio commentary and tweets from friends, all of which, have provided me with so much more than the BBC’s television commentary.

So, let’s integrate social options into sport more thoroughly to give the viewers a choice of what they want to see and hear, rather than some stuffy, overpaid chaps waxing lyrical about the use of an umbrella on court, or asking who some pop star or other is in the audience.

Let me know what you think.

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