Thursday 31 May 2007

German public libraries begin online lending

This snippet from EJC Media News Digest of 31 May 2007 caught my eye - and made me want to share it. I'd be interested in hearing from any other libraries who are doing this, or thinking about doing something similar.

"German public libraries began issuing audio books and e-books for loan via the internet on Wednesday in a pilot scheme which they described as a first for Europe.
Initially, nearly 10,000 titles will be available for download from the public-library systems in the port city of Hamburg and the southern city of Würzburg to subscribers personal computers.

Users can check them out online at any time of the day and night. After five days, the items expire and become unusable. The audio and video files employ Microsoft's WMA encoding and can be played on computers and other devices using Windows software. "It's the libraries' answer to the digital revolution," said Holger Behrens, chief executive of DiViBib, the company based in Wiesbaden, Germany which devised the system.

Borrowing materials online is expected to appeal in particular to a younger, internet-savvy audience. In Würzburg, one of the cities chosen for the pilot project, 70 percent of library patrons are younger than 40 years.

"Young users use Web 2.0," said Hannelore Vogt, manager of the Würzburg city library, referring to the popular term which describes an ecosystem of user-centered online communities. "And they rightly expect from us Library 2.0," she said.

The pilot project will be extended to two more cities - Cologne and Munich - in mid-June"

- Deutsche Welle

Saturday 26 May 2007

Auckland Writers Festival – ten ten

I'm in a hurry to change into the good troosers and the jacket after a packed day here in Auckland where the Writers Festival is in full throng up the street from me in the Aotea Centre. Being able to nip home between acts being one of the benefits of living in the inner city.
Bookman Beattie , who has been doing a great job blogging the last few days has to get on his scooter and go back home to get his posts online. Also, blogging from here is an excellent Christchurch Library, I've also spotted Graham Reid from Random Play I am sure there are others – perhaps some of the authors and contributors? So I guess you can say the blogshere is here at the Festival quietly flying the flag.

It would be a lot easier if there was wifi in the Aotea Centre foyers . Actually, what I mean is it would a lot easier if they would switch it on!

Because ironically there already is a wifi infrastructure in the Centre. But to switch it on , The Edge Centre, the management company to the beneficial owners Auckland City, requires $700 a day to give access in the main foyers to all visitors to the Festival. And that's the second offer. The first one was $150 per login/per person per day. Plus GST! I had to sit down when I was given that number. The second, although still ridiculous, has a least some kind of basis in the real world.

So we either have to find a kind sponsor for next year to pony up the $2500 it would require to give everyone [ it now being an annual event] or , Auckland City Libraires might be invited to extend its free internet access in the City Library across the road , to include the Edge Centre. Now there's a great idea – take the free internet offer [and thak you Auckland for this!!] to the writers and readers across the road, who next week will turn back into library customers.

Or, maybe, by next year the City Council will have such a brilliant public broadband space [aka MUSH network] that , not only will it be connected to the high speed KAREN network, just like the National Library, [big ups again!] there will be a citizen based wireless internet offer right across the whole of downtown Auckland.

I know, have a lie down, Paul; you have been listening to too many conversations involving imagination, creative reach, and Enlightenment values.

Will Hutton
In case you think I made that last one up, I didn't. Rediscovering, and then celebrating the core of Enlightenment values, including freedom of expression, rule of law, public civic spaces, in which the pursuit of individual happiness occurs within a rich framework of common civic institutions, was very much the themes of Will Hutton's presentation last night [ Friday] at the Festival. He was speaking in support of his new book, The Writing on the Wall, China and West in the 21st century.

His thesis is that China and the USA will be the dominant powers of the 21st century – that China will equal and then surpass the GDP of the USA in the next few years, that the economic engine of China is almost unstoppable, but that, ironically, what will stop it is not anything the West can offer in counterpoint, but the internal contradictions of China itself – and crucially its lack of a pluralist political and cultural superstructure, which Hutton argues, is essential for Chinas, and indeed our long term survival.

He is also equally passionate to make clear, that there is no room for western complacency, because these same western liberal values are in danger here in the West – first from the forces of conservative reaction, second from the apathy of we the citizen, and thirdly from the 21st century multinationals who have replaced the old fashioned 19th and 20th century capitalist corporate values of building economic value for the vacuity of shareholder rapacious profit.

It was compelling stuff, with the subsequent line to buy his book a testament to the power of his presentation. I'll tell you later how the book went. Some reviews are posted on his profile on the Writers web site.

I'm late – and I still havn't changed the troosers!

[Sunday update: spoke to Richard Northey , Chair of the Economic Development and Sustainable Business Committee, of Auckland City Council: he confirmed that the business case for an urban fibre network is underway, and that there could well be a municple wifi zone on the Auckland CBD by next year -so watch this space!]

Monday 21 May 2007

Cabbages and Kings

Despite my grand promise to keep this puppy under control, I’m faced with another swathe of time to account for. Too much fun being had by all, especially around the web 2.0 read\\write future.
So, herewith the catch up.

Yesterday, Sunday, had me queuing for a ticket to the Auckland Art Fair. Auckland, Aotearoa (New Zealand)
Supporting more than 60 galleries, and at more than twice the size of its inaugural event in 2005, it brought together galleries from all over New Zealand and Australia, creating a showcase of the best contemporary art in the Antipodes.

Sunday was the last afternoon – and it was still pulling the crowds since the Thursday night opening. In short, a stunning success for the organizers, and a great endorsement of the idea of a New Zealand version of the international trend: offer real live people access to real live contemporary art , and, gosh – gasp, wait for it: actually ask them to think about buying some!

The venue also helped – the Viaduct harbor was at its late summer best – warm – sunny, and a great backdrop to the art.

Among the hundreds of works, there were two of my total favorite artists on show – a set of works on paper from Shane Cotton from Hamish McKay Gallery, and a brilliant Michael Height, from Milford Galleries.

Shane Cotton
Shane Cotton is turning into the most watch able of New Zealand’s contemporary artists. His latest series - deep blue backgrounds with fantail birds in flight within a complex Maori narrative frame: well – just let’s say you have to see them to feel the power.

One of the big guys is still on view at the Auckland Art Gallery. There are also some images at the Gow Langsford Gallery.

Michael Height
There was also a brilliant big Michael Height from the Milford Gallery in Dunedin. I adore his stuff, and one of these days, there is going to be one of his hanging in our Auckland apartment – end of story!

Wellington in the sun
But most of the weekend was spent in Wellington. I even managed a swim and a walk along Oriental parade on a beautiful, to die for Wellington Saturday afternoon.

It’s true. Wellington on a good day – well – I shouldn't say this too loudly, because it only encourages them, but it is truly one of the cutest cities on the planet. I just wish you could say it out loud without feeling like I’ve sat an exam.

The Qantas Media Awards
Speaking of tests and awards – Friday night had a few nervous faces waiting for the swish of the envelope and the winning announcement to the Qantas Media Awards.

Now in their 34th year, they started as an awards recognizing excellence in news photography and have developed to include recognition of what is the best in virtually all journalistic disciplines in New Zealand.

In short, New Zealand’s premier journalism awards, and definitely the industry night out, complete with diner jackets, and flying buns.

There are the usual categories of best picture – story – paper, et al, all of which can be seen here. Among those to look out for is the Qantas Fellow to Wolfson College, Cambridge, which, this year was awarded to David Fisher, Herald on Sunday

This gives the winner the chance to go and do some serous thinking on a project or theme of their choice in Cambridge, UK.

However, in a break from tradition this was also the year the Awards introduced some internet categories. Note the syntax – not an internet award which was put in some kind of silo at the top of the running order, but good old fashioned parallel billing in the running order.

News Website Winner:

Website Best Single News Report Winner:


Columnist-style Website


Sports Website
DB Breweries award

Website DesignWinner:

Subscriber/Special Interest

Public Information Website

Alternative/Light Entertainment Website

And yes, for the record, I was one of the judges, and made a speech which people seemed to like, including the blog category winner, Russell Brown at Hard News.

Hard News
Speaking of which: this was a stand out local blogshere winner. Hard News is not only a national benchmark to good blogging practice, it has a welcome international reach which is essential for the craft.

Moreoever, despite others offering their own personality, it has a quality as rare as haggis eggs, [my own intermittent efforts included] and that's depth and regularity.

Anyone in this business knows it’s possible to pull of the odd opinion and wrap it in a reasonable set of words.

What’s difficult is to be regular, consistent, week in week out. In short a voice and personality in sync with old school journo virtues like checking sources, getting the facts right, and asking the right questions, especially of yourself. Hard News has all that - hence its deserved win.

Radio New Zealand
It was also really good to see Radio New Zealand pull of the best design award.

Acknowledgement to Scoop.
Lastly, although they didn’t win their category, Scoop are hopefully quietly happy with the result. Because, think about it guys – after a few short years you are up there beside the big media compnaies in the likes of NZ Herald and Stuff. [Aka Dominion, et al].

This is a serious achievement – and one which I’ll return to when I finally get round to a retrospective account of the second Deep Dive in LA, from IBM.

Qantas - Next year.
As for Qantas, and the equally stalwart organizers Barry and Carolyn Young, I hear provisional plans are already in play grow the internet categories – e.g. give the blogging the chance to expand.

They have also high hopes to repeat the success of the Wolfson Scholarship by offering a parallel online fellowship to the likes of MIT or the Oxford Internet Institute.

I’m totally in support of this idea. Think about – we give our best online practitioners that precious quality of all – some space, time and a bit of money to do some thinking about the future, and how we construct it?

It wouldn’t take a lot of resource, but to get to it we need partners, and sponsors. Ideas and suggestions welcome – but if you get a cold call from me trying to drum up support for this, then don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Auckland Writers Festival
And last – but not least, in case it had slipped your memory, Thursday is the start of the Auckland Writers Festival. See you there!

Sunday 6 May 2007

Government Leaders Forum Asia 2007

My apologies for the late arrival of this post. But as the picture shows, life has been more than a little interesting of late. The week before last had me in China climbing a part of the Great Wall, at Badaling, albeit slowly, as well as visiting both the Forbidden City, and the Summer Place, in Beijing.

Back to back with that, in the week prior, and after, I have had two interesting strategic planning sessions with a NZ regional tourist board and a NZ regional museum/library, both of whom are developing new digital strategies for the read write world of web 2.0. Of these more later, but first, the Beijing connection.

Government Leaders Forum Asia 2007
I was there at the invitation of Microsoft NZ to attend the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum, Asia. The keynote speakers were among others, our own Mike Moore, Bill Gates, himself, and Nobel Prize Winner, Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank, author and promoter of the concept and practice of micro-finance, which helps the poor by providing them with small loans to set up businesses.

The Forum also included seminars, sessions, and contributions from all the major countries in the Asia Pacific Region; including China, Japan ,Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. It was a fascinating series of discussions.

Education – Inclusion and Innovation
Based on three themes, education, inclusion and innovation, the sessions tried to bring together both connection points, and differences, all with the intent of promoting dialogue between the countries themselves, and of course, Microsoft.

The next billion context
So what is Microsoft hoping to achieve? Well here’s the bit that fascinates – there are now 1 billion people who have some kind of touch point or connection to the Internet. Of these, according to Morgan Stanley, 36% are in Asia 24% are in Europe, with only 23% of users in North America.

Microsoft, according to all the conversations in Beijing, wants to be part of initiatives and programmes that will get the next 1 billion online in the next 10 years. And, yes that means getting behind lots of development projects.

Their logic of course is simple, yet effective – if you get another billion online, then eventually most of them will be either using or being touched by a piece of Microsoft software. In short corporate philanthropy and regional inter-governmental partnerships in education, inclusion, and innovation, make perfect sense for all.

Innovation - AP Portal
Microsoft’s main announcement in this area was the launch of Software AP, the new regional portal to coincide with the Summit.

It bring together three key audiences – the entrepreneur with the bright idea looking for investment support: the money in the form of some blue chip venture capital firms; and local and regional governments who want to use the portal to point both the idea and the money to the various country specific support strategies.

It’s a compelling idea – and if it works, a very welcome one. Currently, it’s restricted to five countries. And yes, New Zealand is one of them.

As for the ideas, Microsoft, when questioned at the press conference [by me as it happens] was absolutely adamant: for sure the innovation will be software based – but no - there was no obligation that the solution be based on a Microsoft framework. And, yes, the project will support open source ideas.
See here.

As might be imagined, both in the formal inter-governmental sessions, and in the speeches from Microsoft, education was a key theme. You can read a lot more on this here . However, the initiative that interested me came from Bill Gates himself, when he announced the detail of the Student Innovation Suite.

Student Innovation Suite.
This package features Microsoft Windows XP Starter Edition, along with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, Microsoft Math 3.0, Learning Essentials 2.0 for Microsoft Office and Windows Live Mail desktop. The price – US $3 – yes – three United States dollars

The detail
Naturally there is a context – the $3 offer is only to governments – and will only apply if a government matches it by giving, or supporting , the student to acquire a low cost pc or laptop.

In the first instance it will be targeted at developing countries, although any country, e.g. New Zealand ,can approach Microsoft for the deal if they are targeting it at the digital divide – i.e. poor students and their families. Find out more here

The context
So what's the context here? Nothing was spelled out, but it seems clear that this is Microsoft's, and Bill Gate’s in particular, answer to the open source, One Laptop per Child project.

This means there will need to be hardware partners who will build the low cost laptop which will, in effect, be the Windows version of the One Laptop Per Child scheme. The hint is that HP might well be that partner.

Where will all this lead? Who knows? For me, for the moment, three points are of interest.

1. Mr Gates goes to Beijing
First, by making the annoucement in person, it is clear that this fits Bill Gates wider vision and his increasing more private philanthropic self. Indeed, watching him give his speech at the Summit there was a tangible note of withdrawal, his energy quiet and almost detached when speaking of Microsoft, the corporation, while more eager and engaged when, later, in conversation with Dr Yunus, he talked of ‘his foundation’

Dr Yunus in turn was equally clear – for ICT to work as a development tool, we need hardware and software designed for the poorest in the world – not the high achieving corporate road warrior.

2. Create the market
Second, despite Bill Gates clear philanthropic fork, this almost giveaway offer makes total business sense for Microsoft. If you like these are the training wheels. If it all works out,
all the students will all be full paying customers eventually. And Microsoft has, as we all know, deep pockets to take the long view.

3. Changing the Platform
Third – by making the software and the hardware a given, it allows Microsoft to begin thinking about content platforms, especially as so many believe, this is where the next generation value chains will lie.
Inclusion - is there a bigger picture?
And so to inclusion - or in other languages , stretching towards the big development goals – eradicating poverty, universal education, equality of life.

Like many others I think ICT is a key tool for development, and can and should be a major lever towards social, cultural and economic inclusion.

However, as Dr Yunus also reiterated, it's essential, that the primary focus of ICT for development be community centred, and that though governments and big multi nationals have a key role, the primary levers need to be rooted in locally led practice.

Microsoft - looking for partnerships?
So how can a huge multi-national like Microsoft square that circle? Spending five days with them in China might just have offered me a few clues around that. First, this is still a very focused company – totally hierarchical for sure, but open to talent and with people and resources galore to make sure they hear every nuance around them.

For sure, the old Microsoft of ‘embrace and extend' is still built into their DNA – and they are still scarily competitiveto be around , and probably as ruthless as of old.

But yet, I also detected another, newer voice, which, curiously, I have also started to hear in the last few months at the local New Zealand level.

This voice, seems to be saying we are interested in developing social and cultural partners as well as commercial ones – we are interested in projects – and also open to conversations.

I can think of a few projects which might be a useful beginning to this agenda. Perhaps you can as well. And, given that conversations are always binary - your thoughts, as always, gratefully received!

In the meantime, its good to be back on this blog– and hopefully, I can get the pace and the rhythm of this puppy sorted in the coming few weeks. In short … more to come!