iYomu: too late to beat Facebook?

iYomu logo

iYomu, that “social networking for grown ups” site I wrote about, officially launched today — with US$1M in prize money up for grabs. And I’ve just written an article for Crikey explaining why I don’t think it’ll fly. I also reckon Facebook will win out over MySpace.

My argument in the Crikey article is that the key to success on the Internet is massive, uncontrolled growth. That means attracting a lot of users fast — and then selling out to someone like Rupert Murdoch before it all implodes. The problem is, the very nature of iYomu works against that rapid growth.

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A Taxonomy of Leaks: how weird will this election get?

Back in 1980, Yes Minister explained the use of irregular verbs in politics:

Bernard Woolley: That’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I give confidential security briefings. You leak. He has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act.

This week I was pleased to see PR strategist Ian Kortlang classify leaks to the media in four ways: Accidental, strategic, malicious and pyromania.

Christian Kerr explains:

Accidental included documents left on photocopiers and the like. Strategic meant a leak designed to achieve a positive advantage. Malicious was meant to undermine and disadvantage. And pyromania was “Stuff the consequences, this feels good.”

Korlang reckons this week’s leak of the Crosby/Textor research saying John Howard is perceived as “old” and “sneaky” was pure pyromania.

One aspect of all this I found quite bizarre was John Howard on radio on Monday:

Confronted with scathing polling describing him as old, sneaky, dishonest and out of touch, Howard said: “There’s nothing particularly new in that… I’m not particularly amazed.”

This election (pre-)campaign is getting weirder and weirder. What could be the weirdest thing yet to come?

Silly Newtown Kiddie-Socialists

Yesterday the Snarky Platypus and I passed the usual gaggle of socialists set up outside the Dendy Cinema on King Street, Newtown. “Sign the petition. Release Dr Haneef,” they cried.

Oh dear. Silly, silly people…

Now you must understand that I’m not playing that right-wing commentators’ game of always prefacing “left” or “socialist” with “loony” or “silly”. That’s just name-calling and a very old propaganda technique indeed. That’s why I think Christian Kerr should grow up and stop using it in Crikey — calling his publication’s commentors shrubhuggers and Stalinists really is childish. After all, would we take a left-wing commentator seriously if they always referred to people anywhere to the right of themselves as Nazis or Fascists?

No, I’m calling these people “silly” because collecting signatures on a petition to release Dr Haneef is politically stupid and a waste of time.

  • What happens to petitions to Parliament? Nothing, really. A functionary announces that a petition on [insert title] has been received with [insert number] of signatures. And then it’s filed away. In nearly every case, that’s the end of the story.
  • The next sitting of federal parliament doesn’t even start until 7 August. It’ll be at least 10 days until your petition is tabled. If you really cared about Dr Haneef being in a cell, how about trying something quicker?
  • The government really doesn’t care what people in Newtown think, because it’s the left-wing heartland. “Good heavens,” John Howard quakes, “folks in Newtown don’t like what we’re doing! We’d better change tack immediately!” Erm, no. Now if you collected signatures in Penrith or Ryde or Parramatta or some other marginal Liberal electorate then maybe they’d care — but I’m guessing that doesn’t have the same appeal as spending a sunny afternoon with your mates on King Street, eh?

But my fourth point is the crunch…

  • Dr Haneef had already been released the previous night, charges dropped! While the Newtown socialists were collecting signatures calling for his release, Dr Haneef was already at home watching TV with family and friends.

Gawd, people! If you’re going to play politics, at least try to stay in touch. Perhaps even use that Internet thing!

Review: The Crikey Guide to the 2007 Federal Election

The Crikey Guide to the 2007 Federal Election

Crikey attempts a difficult task — a book about politics for people who don’t know much about politics. But despite a few minor flaws they pull it off well enough to more than justify the $19.95 price tag.

The Crikey Guide to the 2007 Federal Election is a great way to bring yourself up to speed in this vital election year — but not because of the profiles of key marginal electorates.

The profiles cover the same ground as the ABC Elections website and every print media outlet will give us free of charge once the election date is announced. The maps are so small as to be unreadable — they’d have worked better in a B5 or A4 magazine format rather than a standard paperback. I suppose profiling the marginals is compulsory, but it could have been handled better.

The essays are what makes this book truly valuable.

Editor Christian Kerr has managed to suppress the right-wing bias he exhibits daily in Crikey and provides an even-handed overview of the task facing the major parties, their strengths and vulnerabilities. His profiles of 2-dozen-odd power players are a great spotter’s guide to the people behind the scenes. Charles Richardson provides an excellent overview of Australia’s electoral system and the parties — some of the best in-a-nutshell explanations I’ve seen.

But four essays stood out for me as pure gold.

Veteran political journalist Mungo MacCallum’s 14-page history of the Canberra Press Gallery is a must-read.

18 years breeding ducks on the north coast of NSW has not softened Mungo’s tongue. Describing old-school political reporting as “dull as an afternoon with Phillip Ruddock,” his essay is nevertheless a lament for the good old days, when journalists and backbenchers were crammed together in Old Parliament House.

Like the politicians, [the new journalists] are in it for life — terrified of missing a story, but unwilling to take any real risks to obtain one.

Peter Brent of Mumble writes about opinion polls — performing the most valuable service of explaining how to interpret them, given their inherent margin for error.

Reporting political opinion polls must rank as one of the more trivial pursuits for the reporter. If news items were given the emphasis they deserve, political polls would not sit on the front page next to the latest Baghdad bombings, but much further back; say around page eight. They would stand alone in a table with little or no explanation. As an election approached, they would move towards the front, with some words of interpretation.

But opinion polls cost a bomb to produce, so onto page one they must go. Then everyone must pretend that’s where they belong, adding several hundred words of interpretation — turning them over, looking for meaning, interpreting them as good or bad for someone or other, pretending you can identify why the numbers move over a fortnight.

Julian Fitzgerald provides equally insightful profiles of the lobbying industry and of the government’s own factories of spin doctors.

The flaws — apart from those bloody unreadable maps — were that for a newcomer to politics there’s still too much taken for granted. The “WA Inc” episode and the Dollar Sweets industrial case are mentioned but not explained — I’m not too sure about them myself! And if your glossary needs to explain what a “conflict of interest” is, then your reader won’t know that an “informal” vote means an invalid one.

Still, these are minor criticisms. The essays alone make the book worth buying, and this is certainly a handy guide to what’s about to unfold in Canberra and across the nation.

Andrew Denton’s foreword is a reminder that we should be seeing a lot more of this man’s writing:

At first, the signs that a campaign is upon us will be subtle. Overnight, someone will place food in Julia Gillard’s kitchen. Or Bob Katter will purchase an extra-big hat.

But soon the rituals that mark every election will play out across the land. Paul Keating will need to be sedated. Ditto John Hewson. Lubricants of all kinds will be applied to Alan Jones. First-borns offered to Rupert. Piers Ackerman will explode. Robert Manne will implode. Oakes will trump Milne and Ramsey will invoke Hayden. Centrebet will cash in. Gen X will tune out. And people everywhere will struggle to name to leader of the Nats.

Sweet stuff indeed.

One final criticism. In the age of universal word processors, a reference book without an index is inexcusable.

[Disclosures: Crikey paid me to write a story based on one of my blog posts, and will probably publish another on Monday. However I bought this book with my own money and wrote this review of my own free will. I have drunk beer with Antony Green, and survived.]

Howard’s latest lie: state budget “deficits”

Commonwealth/State Budget Balance Graphs

Are two posts about John Howard in one day too many? Maybe. But he is Prime Minister and we are in the lead-up to a federal election — and he is “playing the game” for all it’s worth.

And besides, what I’m about to explain is such a classic example of Howard spin — though I must thank Christian Kerr at Crikey for this one — though it’s subscriber-only content.

Here’s the deal. It’s likely that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) will raise interest rates on 8 August, and John Howard reckons the state governments are to blame.

“These are Labor government deficits, they’re not Liberal Government deficits,” Mr Howard told Sky News. “The Federal Government is not out there borrowing money… and putting upward pressure on interest rates, but state governments are.”

Alas, the RBA’s own graphs (shown right) tell a different story.

As Christian Kerr explains, “[the graphs] show that state governments have been increasing their surpluses for seven straight years [and] the surpluses have been increasing in recent times, rather than deteriorating.”

Using further graphs, which I won’t bother with here, he also shows that in every year since 1991-92, the state government sector has had lower debt and then moved to accumulate assets earlier than the Commonwealth government.

But, you know, John Howard and truth… they don’t go well in the same sentence.