Monday, October 24, 2011

Cannot defame with a hyperlink - Canadian Supreme Court ruling

In the spirit of actually being in Canada, I learnt last Thursday that in a groundbreaking case the Canadian Supreme Court has supported two lower courts in ruling unanimously that hyperlinking to defamatory information is not the same as defaming someone, unless the information is replicated in the link or on the hyperlinker's site or page.

Learn more about the ruling (in a case originally brought in a British Columbia court by a Vancouver business person and political volunteer against a local website) in this BBC article, Canada Supreme Court: hyperlinks cannot libel. Yes there is a certain irony about reporting in Vancouver on a Vancouver case by referring to a British website - however I read the original story in a local (paper) newspaper.

This ruling may have flow-on influence to Australian courts, who do take some note of rulings in other Westminster jurisdictions, particularly in Common Law areas where precedents are important in clarifying grey areas in law.

The Canadian ruling, where the Court considered hyperlinks as "content neutral" (as hyperlinkers have no control over the content they link to), may even extend further to cases where links point to prohibited, but not necessarily illegal content, such as some Refused Classification (RC) content under Australia's classification for content deemed offensive but not necessarily illegal under Australian law.

Currently it is an offense to link to RC-rated content, or even to know what is rated RC - which poses a challenge for all individuals and organisations who may not realize that content they are linking to is prohibited in Australia. There has been at least one case where an Australian government agency has inadvertently linked to RC content (in a published user submission to a consultation) - which was certainly not the agency's fault.

Also as the destination content of links can change rapidly, or even appear different to users from different IP addresses, there is an ongoing risk under current Australian regulation that individuals or organisations might in good faith link to valuable relevant content which is later changed. I have seen this happen myself in a book on kids' websites with links where after publication several kids' sites were sold to adult content organisations who changed the content significantly. This could affect both defamation and RC related situations.

While I am drawing a bit of a long bow from a Canadian Supreme Court ruling to other manifestations of hyperlink-related law in Australia, it is an area that requires ongoing careful consideration and adaptation to reflect what is sound and practicable, not simply what may be popular or reflect an ideal state without recourse to technical facts.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Traditional media insiders are the least qualified to comment on the future of traditional media

With the release of News Ltd's Future of journalism 'discussion' I've submitted a 'Your view' to the site which may, or may not, be published at some point in the future.

On the basis that traditional media is no longer the gatekeeper for participation in public debate I have posted my submission below.

I see a lot of the debate over traditional media relevancy and business models being very 'fiddling on the edges' stuff, attempting to use technical or legal barriers (such as copyright) to preserve an industrial era view of media which media consumers, now also media producers, are rejecting in droves.

Today any individual or organisation can create and maintain its own media platform capable of reaching 95% of Australians, and over 2 billion people worldwide.

The Internet, by merely existing, allows entrepreneurs and agile organisations to question all previous assumptions about the collection, collation, filtering, distribution and monetization of content. As a global playing field, the importance of geographic boundaries has been further diminished.

Being agile, efficient and effective is no longer sufficient. Organisations must be prepared to destroy and reconstruct themselves under entirely different models to remain competitive and relevant.

The jury is still very much out as to whether traditional newspapers, radio and television media organisations will be able to do this before they see a substantial amount of their profitability dry up.

My submission:

It is no surprise that people who work in traditional media, who have a financial and emotional stake in its future, are supportive of their organisation’s future (provided they are agile, efficient and effective).

I can see expert blacksmiths believing the same with the arrival of mass-produced cars and metalwork.

However what those beholden to traditional media cannot see is the viewpoint from the outside world.

Yes access to information is a requirement for liberal democracies. Yes quality news is a tool used to stabilize societies and promote understanding.

However there is no law of nature that states that profitability must be at the root of quality news coverage and reporting. Nor is there a causal link between professional journalism and professional news reporting – journalists, as humans, are as prone to reflecting their own biases as others and, even when trained to be objective, are at the mercy of sub-editors (where they still exist), editors and the overall political ambitions of for-profit media concerns.

Now I am not saying that government-run media (with no profit objective) is the answer. These systems bring their own control and bias issues, they still need cash and still have oversight from humans who may be influenced by political views.

Nor am I saying that for-profit, or even not-for-profit independent media outlets do not have a future. They do.

However the vast expansion in expressive capability that has been realized through the Internet has offered a second model to news gathering and reporting that will seriously challenge the biases of distribution systems with tacked on news collection and reporting facilities.

There is no reason to assume that industrial news services will continue to be the leading players in the media market – certainly the impact of the web on other industrial era centralised industries has been profound. When the means of production and distribution are diversified, some necessary changes and adaptation is required.

However those who have financial and emotional connection to the old models, while the most prolific commenters on new models, are not the gatekeepers to these new media forms, nor are they objective and impartial observers, able to assess the changes without bias.

I would challenge News Ltd and all other industrial-era news industry players to look outside themselves and their orbits (bloggers who are, in effect, news people) to the broader changes occurring in society.

We need to consider new models – perhaps the disaggregation of news collection and distribution, creating an open market for people to write news, have it submitted to, paid for and distributed by strong distribution channels, or for citizens (who are now all journalists, so we can drop the ‘citizen journalist’ tag) to be paid based on views, likes and reputation when submitting their work to an open news distribution platform.

News is no longer the news, access to distribution is the news and there is a pressing need to experiment with new approaches to opening up news distribution rather than locking it down into professional guild-like channels.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Social media is now normal - so why do government agencies persist in treating it as an edge case?

As this article in Fast Company illustrates, social media is now normal, an integrated set of tools for ongoing human interaction.

We've known for several years that Australians are enormous users of social media, with Nielsen research indicating that the average Australian Internet user (and 95% of us are users based on Sensis figures) spends upwards of 7 hours per month actively using one of a range of online social networks - and this doesn't include the full range of online participation possible via forums, blogs and comments.

We've also known for several years that the community's number one preferred channel for engaging with government is via the Internet. AGIMO's research in this area has seen a steady (and predictable) upwards trend in the desire for greater online contact over the last 4-5 years.

So why do government agencies, by and large, still treat social media engagement as a fringe case, with access to these channels often restricted to a few people in the communications area and senior executives often still wary or debating how to monitor or support online contact (while enthusiastically supporting their phone-based contact centres)?

It has been interesting to watch agencies attempt to shoehorn social media and online engagement into the traditional models they are used to - one-to-one communication, with the timing and extent carefully controlled by the agency itself (and look how positively the community has regarded this form of engagement with government over the last ten years). Clearly control is an issue, as is budget and the exact context and content of messages.

However the world has moved on and agencies have to recognize and adapt, not merely tweak the corners or treat social media engagement as an edge case, for use by small groups under tightly controlled 'laboratory' conditions.

It is evident overseas how other western governments are beginning to accept these channels as core - with, perhaps surprisingly, the US armed forces serving as a good object example of how every soldier, sailor, pilot and support crew member is now regarded as a public engagement officer.

By taking the step to recognize this, then putting appropriate policies in place, the US armed forces have done an excellent job of managing the landscape changes, steps that Australian governments have, for the most part, been very slow to accept.

Today every government agency, at every level of government, needs to start by accepting that their staff, for the most part, are active online participants in their personal lives. They need to acknowledge that online channels are increasingly the source of public views and policy ideas from the community and must be accessible for staff to mine for intelligence, use to identify interesting and influential people and viewpoints and to engage actively in "robust policy conversations" (to quote APSC guidance on the topic).

Agencies need to recognize that social media and online channels are integral to their public reputation and the reputation of the Ministers and governments they serve. A view, complaint or compliment placed in a social network is equally valid to one made directly to an agency via their 'controlled' communications channels - and may be significantly more influential (or damaging) due to its public reach.

Certainly there are risks in online engagement - as there are in all communications to and with the outside world. However failure to engage online also bears risks, often much greater, of being seen to be irrelevant and ineffective, reducing the credibility of agencies and the Ministers they are required to serve. Failure to engage actively online can damage recruitment, procurement, policy development and program or service delivery outcomes in measurable and unmeasurable ways.

So agencies are really reaching a crunch point for their reputation and relevancy. Do they choose to continue to treat social media as an 'edge' activity, carefully quarantined from their everyday business, and risk becoming edge organisations?

Or do they choose to state a commitment to the use of social media and other online channels as a core aspect of their interactions with the outside world, and with their staff, then move to implement these commitments (taking the precautions necessary to make the change a pragmatic and well managed process rather than a headlong rush to catchup and survive).

This decision (integrate or quarantine) should be on the agenda at the highest levels of all government agencies in Australia today as it will soon begin to shape career prospects and even the long-term effectiveness of public organisations.

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The changing face of media, communications, politics and agency engagement

I've just read the latest speech by Annabel Crabbe on the changing face of the media and politics and thought it worth highlighting as, to my knowledge, it is the first serious piece by an Australian professional journalist in recognizing the changing face of journalism, politics and communication (including by government agencies).

Her views embody much of what I have believed over the last fifteen years and spoken personally about at conferences and in my blog over the last five years - the traditional view of journalism and politics is being washed away, being replaced with a far more equitable, if less controllable, environment.

Give Annabel's article a read at The Drum, An audience, an audience, my kingdom for an audience.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

What if computer problems happened in real life?

I'll let the video speak for itself...

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Treating bloggers right

Many organisations still haven't cottoned on to the influence of a number of blogs or how to appropriately approach and engage with them - including PR and advertising agencies who should know better.

I was reading an excellent example of this the other week, from The Bloggess, where a PR agency not only approached with an inappropriately targeted form letter, which indicated the agency hadn't even read her blog, but responded to her (relatively) polite reply with an annoyed response.

The situation really escalated, however, when a VP in the PR agency, in an internal email, called her a "F**king bitch" (without the asterisks). This email was accidentally (by the VP) also CCed to The Bloggess.

The Bloggess took a deep breath, and responded politely, however then received a torrent of abuse from the PR agency.

At this point she published the entire exchange on her blog - in a post that has already received 1,240 comments, has been shared on Facebook 8,397 times and via Twitter 5,328 times.

Her comments have also been shared widely and her post read by many of her 164,000 Twitter followers.

The Bloggess's post is a good read - particularly for government agencies and their PR representatives - on how to behave appropriately when engaging bloggers, and the potential fallout when they don't.

I'm also keeping a link handy to 'Here's a picture of Wil Wheaton collating papers' for those PR and advertising agencies who send me form emails asking me to post about their product or brand promotions on my blog (and yes there's been a few in the last six months - all Australian agencies).

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Allowing your customers to codesign your services

Crowdsourcing often seems to be a high stress area for organisations, who fear what might happen if they allowed their users to design their products and services.

However what is often forgotten is that it's not about handing over the design process, it is about sharing it as a codesign process - combining the brain power of a few internal or contracted specialist designers who don't necessarily use your products or services with the brain power of thousands of non-specialists who use or interact with your products and services, often on a regular basis.

A good example of this process was recently discussed in Inc., where Fiat crowd sourced the design of its 2009 concept car, the Fiat Mio.

The main part of this process was conducted in Spanish (as Fiat is Brazilian based), and while I watched it occur at the time, there was only a limited subset of the conversation in English.

However Fiat ended up involving people from 160 countries - taking on board over 10,000 suggestions.  The website about the making of the car provides more information on how Fiat went about integrating these suggestions.

The concept car won widespread critical acclaim. 

This isn't the only approach possible, and the article in Inc, Letting Your Customers Design Your Products, describes five different types of crowd sourcing:
  • Crowdfunding: Sites such as Kickstarter that allow an individual or enterprise to receive funding.
  • Distributed knowledge: The aggregation of data and information from a variety of sources.
  • Cloud labor: Leveraging a virtual labor pool.
  • Collective creativity: Tapping "creative" communities for user-generated art, media or content.
  • Open innovation: The use of outside resources to generate new ideas and company processes.
 How many of these could your agency benefit from?

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

RightClick presentation

I've been a little busy this week, what with my wedding on Saturday, however here, belatedly, is my presentation from last Friday at RightClick.

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We're all internet organisations now

For the last fifteen years there's been an interesting 'us vs them' going on in the world of organisations - both commercial and public sector.

The distinction, real world versus online (businesses or organisations - take your pick), was made using fairly clear lines. Whether the organisation had physical shopfronts or offices you could walk into. Whether they made and products that sat on a shelf, or were comprised of zeros and ones. Whether their workers sat in the same buildings, or were spread across the world, kept connected via the internet.

People in 'real world' organisations considered themselves as serious workers, producing real things for real people and could look down on 'virtual organisations' as producing little of substance or longevity, being fad chasers who would not survive.

Equally those working in online organisations considered themselves as more agile, adaptable, collaborative and smarter than those in 'traditional organisations' and saw themselves as the inheriting the world from the dinosaurs.

As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence I've seen many subconscious prejudices play out, leading to poor investment decisions, marketing strategies ignoring major channels and structural decisions that did not take into account the full range of cost-effective options.

However over the last few years I have noticed a major shift in attitudes amongst both groups. A new respect of why there are differences in how organisations operate based on the products they happen to make.

At the same time digital technologies have become essential for all organisations, the internet a vital backbone for connecting their brains with their hands and legs, for informing decisions and communicating with customers.

In essence, in a variety of ways, all organisations are now internet organisations - supported and empowered by the world's data networks.

Where organisations still produce physical products and services, these are designed, produced, marketed, distributed and sold with heavy reliance on digital solutions.

Where the currency of organisations is information, this is also collected, analysed and distributed electronically.

What this means for government is that Departments are also now internet organisations. We have internalised the use of email, online research and consultation and the use of digital technologies to organise and instruct our staff and produce and distribute our products and services.

This has happened to such an extent that few government agencies could continue to perform efficiently if you removed their internet connections and email links from the world. A weakness? Perhaps, but also a strength.

So if you ever have anyone telling you that online organisations don't produce anything of value, aren't 'real', won't scale and will die out, tell them to think about how their organisation would cope if it lost its virtual presence and digital links.

It's about time we began embracing and leveraging this for organisational advantage.

We need to kill any of the remaining 'us vs them' thinking and ensure that all our top management embrace, understand and can most effectively use digital technologies to maximise our productivity and efficiency.

We're all internet organisations now.

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