The Rise and Fall of Virgin Student

This week Ofcom released figures to suggest that the British use online social networks more than any other European population. Apparently we spend an average 5.3 hours per month logged into sites like Facebook and MySpace. Some are calling it obsessive.

Obsessions are often explosive and a lot of the analysis would suggest that our take up of social networks has been just that. The media story of networking sites is one that begins in a bedroom, builds up some underground cred, catches the eye of a big brand and within a year of launch is bought up for millions of dollars.

But not so. Sites like Facebook and MySpace are just the latest permutations in a long strain of social networks that have been with us since the beginning of the web. In fact, over the years there has been very little change in their essential components.

Take as a case study VirginStudent was a community site launched in 2000 by no less than one of the UK’s – nay the world’s, most important brands – Virgin. It’s a site close to my heart; I did an internship there over a glorious summer in 2001. Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of Virgin Student”

Human bandwidth… what’s your throttle?

If you’ve never read Straw Dogs by John Gray, you should. It’s an arresting book centred on a critique of humanism and the concept of progress and materialism. At times it really spoke to me, and at others it induced a very furrowed brow. Either way, I’m really glad I read it.

There was one paragraph that really stood out to me in a chapter on free will. Gray discusses the ‘bandwidth of consciousness’. He cites figures from Vincent Deary who has calculated that overall we process some 14 million bits of information per second. But the bandwidth of conscious action and thought, however, is only 18 bits!

If true (unfortunately the name of the calculator is cited but not the paper), then perhaps we should be less concerned with pushing up the speed of our internet connections, and spend some more time on reducing the throttling on our minds.

Continue reading “Human bandwidth… what’s your throttle?”

eDemocracy Scotland: Creating a national conversation?

The Scottish Parliament is often lauded as being a crucible of innovation around parliamentary procedures and public engagement methods. In terms of eDemocracy, the Parliament’s ePetition’s service is by far one of the most prominent in the world. But an ePetitions service does not an eDemocracy make.

It would be fair to say that beyond Parliament’s online petitions, Scottish-based eDemocracy has been a slow-riser. But rising it is. On February 1st 2008, Holyrood Conferences is holding Scotland’s first dedicated eDemocracy conference to discuss progress to date, how Scottish eDemocracy fits into the wider polity and, of course, where to next.

I will be delivering the Conference’s presentation on the technological infrastructure underpinning Scottish eDemocracy. A refreshing change to the vision-thing presentations I am used to delivering.

As well as looking at the issues through a parliamentary lens, other sessions will look at the Scottish Government and the civil society in Scotland.

For more information, visit

Hope to see you there!