29 May 2005

Is this an exercise in irony?

The BBC is reporting that the Respect Coalition candidate for Sparkbrook, Birmingham, in the recent elections is mounting a challenge to the results. She claims that some people were prevented from voting. Given the past behaviour of some of the parties in the Respect coalition in that same constituency the phrase "That's rich" comes to mind.

I live in that constituency. The Respect coalition campaigners (especially the JFK (Justice for Kashmir party, now renamed People's Justice party), a party who campaign mainly on the issue of handing the Kashmir region of India over to Pakistan) would routinely harrass voters outside the polling station (usually targeting white voters, the area is majority Asian) and follow them into the polling station, right up to the pollbooth, to continue to harrass them. Complaints to the officials in the polling station would result in a shrug from them and accusations of racism from the from the campaigners.

This year I avoided the harrassment by getting to the polling station before the campaigners were organised.

20 May 2005

One more step towards gender equality

It's just been on the BBC breakfast news that 42% of bankrupts are now women. Appartently the root cause is that now women are more likley to take out debts in their own name (either because they are staying single or they are just doing it for themselves) rather than making/letting their husband taking on the responsibility for the debt.

They also talked about how women are more likely to take career breaks and to stay in a lower salary job because the employer has 'family friendly' policies. On a related note I remember at a recent UNISON education one day conference it was stated that women are far less likely to attempt to negotiate a higher salary or request training that will allow them to advance to higher paying jobs. One of the speakers (a woman) said that she had found that often female workers saw requesting/organising training was something that was done for/to them where as male workers saw it as something they do for themselves. I suspect that this has a lot to do with early life training and parental expectations (girls were expected to be pretty and play nicely whilst boys were expected to go out and have adventures).

15 May 2005

Discipline in school found to improve exam results

A Birmingham head teacher inproved exam results 12 fold by introducing isolation rooms for disruptive pupils. Basically kids are 4 warnings then they get put in the rooms during the school day for upto 3 days. The school in questioin (Ninestyles) was always known for being very rough and a bit of a dumping ground for problem pupils. When I was in school at Langley (not far from Ninestyles), 1985-87, it was widely known (or at least believed) that a Ninestyles pupil had a far better chance of going to jail than to 6th form, let alone university.

The isolation rooms sound a lot like the pindown rooms that were briefly used in the 1980s before they were banned.

8 May 2005

Keeping the policians honest and dealing with voter apathy

On one of the communities I frequent someone posted an entry asking for ideas on the perenial problem of how to keep politicians focused on representing their constituents and dealing with voter apathy.

Here's my response:
Unfortunately the only things I can think of are long term things and require the people to actually get off their arses and engage with the system.

  • Hold you representive accountable. Go to surgeries/advice sessions, tell them what you need/want done and what you think they should be doing. Write to them using FaxyourMP.com or WriteToThem.com so that their responsiveness will be tracked and look at their past record using TheyWorkForYou.com. Find out if they have a blog or journal (for example John Hemming, the new MP for Yardley in Birmingham, has one on blogspot). Read it and comment as appropriate.
  • Before the next election write them and tell them what you think of them and if you will be voting for or against them and why. Further, write to them at least once a year to tell them what you think of what they've done over the past year or what they did over a particular issue.
  • Get active. Communicate with others in the area. Campaign on the issues important to you. Wave placards, distribute leaflets, join a union or pressure group, put up posters, write to the local newspaper &c.

I really believe that the voters need to engage with the political system and keep contact with their representatives. If enough of us ask questions and challenge the waffle and untruths then maybe we can keep our politicians honest. Also, maybe, if people make themselves aware of the local issues they can campaign on the things that are important, not just whatever the person with the megaphone is ranting about.

6 May 2005

Blogging for business

After months of negative stories about companies firing bloggers for the contents of their online journal, BusinessWeek magazine are telling business to harness the power of blogging. Rather than seeing blogs as just a source of leaks and employee griping, companies should encourage positive blogging.

Blogs can be a useful as a grass roots tool for raising awareness. The frequent interlinking between blogs means that the readership of a comparatively minor blog can jump quickly as links to it spread and that blog posts frequently get Google PageRank scores that, so called, Search Engine Optimizers (SEOs) can only dream of. Indeed the comment spamming that any of us that have had a popular blog for some time have seen often comes from SEOs trying to promote the sites they have been paid to 'optimize'.

The article suggests that businesses leverage blogs to promote their company. No doubt the marketing departments will quickly grasp on to this and start producing hundreds of blogs loaded with advertising. They always do miss the point like that. Who do you think invented spam? Yeah, that's right. Marketeers. It was the marketing department of a large law firm.

So, what will be sucessful corporate blogging?

I think somethin that shows a degree of sincerity. Not something loaded with adverts and product promotions, something containing real information about the company that doesn't look like it was passed through some marketing droid for spin and polish. Look at the the blogs of the likes of Jonathan Schwartz (of Sun Microsystems), Simon Phipps (also of Sun Microsystems), James Gosling (Sun Microsystems but the Java side of the business), GoogleBlog (Google, a digest from the personal blogs of many Google employees) or even Chris Pratley. All the blogs I've mentioned are from techie people because I'm a techie person and so I'm interested in what they have to say (I also read Wil Wheaton dot Net and many others (look to the right hand side of this page for somemore)). None could be considered advertising or marketing department driven, that's a big plus for me.. Pratley is just talking about the project he's working on. Schwartz talks about new things Sun is doing, similarly for the others talk about their work and the projects or products they're involved with. But in amongst the company stuff is the people interest stuff that puts a human face on the technology. That brings readers in and keeps them coming back.

Another thing that the article talks about is that it gives the company a chance to engage with the customers. Handled right this can be very useful, handled badly (i.e. by the marketing department) it can be a disaster. In her book The Popcorn Report US consumer/business writer Faith Popcorn talks about companies that have handled it right, and those who didn't. The key thing is what happens when things go wrong, when a poorly quality controlled product is shipped or a foodstuff gets contaminated. Companies that handled it badly let the marketing department go on a damage limitation exercise to hide the problem, minimise it, lie about it, say it was just a few isolarted cases. In the long term it hurt those companies badly. Those that handled it well engaged with the customer, admitted there was a problem and then explained how they were doing it. Sure those companies were hurt in the short term but they quickly got back with consumer confidence in them and their products higher than before.

I realize that I've been hard on marketing departments, but it's from years of experience of dealing with them. There's a marketing mindset and it's a bad mindset. It's a mindset that encourages people to place 'position' and spin over actually producing a product that people can use and will want to use.