Sep 17

Review of Crunch Accounting

Crunch Accounting provides me with an amazing accountancy service and superb web app for me to manage my everyday business accounts.

Yesterday I went on one of my regular “diversions” down an online rabbit hole, and ended up on the website of accountingreviews.co.uk who seem to provide detailed reviews of accountancy software and services.

I was surprised to see quite a bit of negativity towards my own accountant, Crunch, both in the main article (a review of Crunch) and an almost suspicious amount of scathing responses in the comments section. Experiences here seemed to be genuine, although there was a general lack of detail, citing “poor customer service” and other generic negativity.

As the internet warrior I am* I set about to try and provide a balanced view, so I posted on the website accountingreviews.co.uk. Scroll down to read my review / comment.

I checked back a day later to find my comment had been removed.

Then I looked to see who runs the site, and it’s a competitor product called Pandle.

* /mild sarcasm

The owners of this site purport to put an “independent” view across. On their about page they state:

“Whilst the website obviously helps promote our wonderful cloud bookkeeping software, it’s also a valuable resource for people looking for choice and information about different packages.

We use independent reviewers for our reviews, to give their opinions on each of the products to help potential users make a more informed decision to select the package that fits them.”

I wouldn’t for one minute wish to suggest that this website is claiming to provide independent reviews, whilst at the same time moderating (removing) any comments that place their competitors in a good light, subtly crafting a negative advertisement against competitor products.

I must admit the original review on the blog of this Crunch did seem detailed, but glossed over a lot of points and tended towards being negative towards Crunch, rather than checking facts or being rigorous in any way. See my comment below for further detail / rebuttals.

Anyway, as my comment there was deleted, I thought it only fair to make my comments public on a website that I run, so it will say online forever 🙂

Review below (mysteriously disappeared from the accountingreviews.co.uk run by competitor company Pandle)

For the sake of balance, here’s my view. I run a small limited company providing photography and IT services. 3 years ago I was looking for a cloud based accountancy firm, a one-stop-shop. A web designer friend of mine recommend two or three (based on his mates’ comments), I did the research, and I went with Crunch.

I’m extremely impressed by the software which bridges the gap between standard accountancy software (which also means you need to hire an accountant) and the accountant themselves.

For me, an all-in-one service providing software and accountancy services is like gold-dust, and the review above does not recognise this. Instead it tries to shoe-horn web app into the category of other accountancy applications. It’s a different service altogether.

The comment “overpriced compared to other options available” needs citation. I suspect the reason there is no example is that the other apps being referred to often don’t combine accountancy and support under one roof. So yes – not a fair comparison.

For example, you can’t simply say “A small amount of reports (5 in total), although there are some graphs on the different tabs of the web app.” … that’s complete rubbish. Pretty much every page on the site (which, by the way, is perfectly logical and easy to navigate) has snippets of relevant, context sensitive information that constitutes a report. Take the homepage for example. 1) a useful timeline summary showing various HMRC deadlines such as VAT payment / submission, corporation tax deadline, companies house filing deadlines, etc. (How many accountancy applications have that? None, because this is information specific to your business as well as up-to-date HMRC changes etc.) 2) Your tax liabilities are shown on the front page, so you know what your running totals are, and so it’s easy to make sure you don’t withdraw too much money or make silly decisions. 3) Sales and expenses totals for the period are shown. Invoices are split into drafts, outstanding, and overdue. Do those count in your “only 5 reports” comment? Doubt it. And that’s just on the front page of the app.

The additions in red are clearly designed to draw the reader to the conclusion that Crunch are mischievous in some way, but actually they don’t provide a good balanced view, in my opinion.

Secondly, how many accountancy apps let you do the reconciliation with your bank statements which are automatically loaded into the app itself? Maybe some do – but I suspect the cost (probably high?) of this certainly hasn’t been factored into the comparison presented here.

The review above expresses unfounded scepticism about whether the expenses app is a novelty or actually useful. I use the iphone app almost daily. It works a charm, and it means I don’t have to ensure receipts are kept in a safe place, and I don’t have to spend hours at the end of each quarter inputting receipts. This is a superb service, my receipts get attached to new expense entries (which are added under the relevant cost code depending on what the receipt was for) and I can access them online later. I am hugely surprised that this was dismissed as a novelty! It’s a MASSIVE time saver.

How many applications allow you to schedule late payment reminders, based on whether someone has actually paid you or not?

I just don’t recognise the negative comments made in the discussion here. Having dealt with Crunch quite a bit over the last few years, none of it adds up to me.

Look, it’s fine if you don’t like Crunch as a service. But I think this could be a question of expectations.

All I’d say is: if you are interested in going with Crunch, don’t dismiss it based on the review and comments on this page. As a business owner you should probably be used to assessing options in an independent manner. So therefore treat everything here (including my comments!) with healthy scepticism.

Nobody asked me to write this comment, in fact I called Crunch today about something unrelated and had to call them back, so google for their number, and was sidetracked looking at their google reviews, then came here and was compelled to write.

May 16

On the Microsoft Pro-EU position – how not to write a letter

I wrote in a previous post that I have a gut feeling about the EU referendum. In fact I have a gut feeling about most things, which is all the more reason I like to subject myself to criticism. Come and knock spots off me, show me how I’m wrong. In fact I’ll go out to seek the counter argument. I’m opinionated, but I’m not entrenched. It’s entirely likely I may rebut everything I find – or everything you say – but at least give me the opportunity to do so and to have the debate. The debate is just as important as the outcome.

Which is why the media coverage of the referendum has been so frustrating to date. It hasn’t been a debate about the issues, rather one about the rhetoric of the debate. The debate is about the debate.

Anyway I’m not complaining about media representation here, I’m angry about something completely different.

You may have heard in the news that Microsoft wrote an email to their employees and business network urging them to vote to stay in the EU.

Well, it wasn’t really an “urge”, because it had nothing compelling in it whatsoever.

I suppose if you’re a huge organisation, for PR purposes you can’t possibly go too far down the road of siding with one political movement over another. Unless it’s taking a stand against outright evil, it’s best to be safe.

Here are my notes on the Microsoft Email. Michel Van der Bel, you have let me down, you have let your team down, but most of all you have let yourself down:


In the interests of balance, here’s a letter from a small online bookshop based in Lincoln that I received with a shipment last week. Forget the different political positions that Microsoft and Anybook.biz have for a second; this letter is refreshingly different from Microsoft’s letter in the following ways

a) It’s very specific about the industry they are in, rather than the business itself

b) It is laden with statements of fact. While these need fact-checking, at least there is something to pin an argument on

c) it is direct, and it says how it will affect consumers as well as the business


May 15

Open Letter to Nick Clegg: please re-stand at our party’s leadership election

Dear Nick,

“He had to go”; a very British leadership response that shows humility in the face of defeat. Where, in other countries, leaders of defeated parties cannot help themselves but try to hold arrogantly to power, the expectation of a party leader in this situation is to fall on the sword. Swiftly. Graciously. With a good speech.

Any other action sends a message that the public cannot stomach. Belligerence. Power hungry. Out of touch.

Nick, throughout government, and even in the coalition agreement meetings five years ago, you did the right thing. Two days ago you did the right thing. As leader you have dilligently represented members of our party like me, and like much of the electorate, who felt that unbridled Labour was causing huge problems for our country, but that the solution was not an unrestrained Tory government.

The current rhetoric – “the voters have punished us but we did the right thing” – is absolutely the right line to take. Not only is it true, but people are increasingly hearing it, agreeing, and engaging. Facebook has been a vicious place to be over the last few days if you are not Labour. Even the national press has noted this prevelance in social media of intolerance against socialism. Yet there is a new message emerging on social media which, if you listen to the small quiet voices, is one of moderation. Members have joined our party over the last 48 hours in record numbers.

Nick, I am as anti-populist as any true Liberal and I spurn media manipulation. Amusingly, however, I agreed with that silly social media line five years ago: “I agree with Nick”. Finally we had found our voice.

I am writing to you today to argue that this wasn’t just because we found your voice appealing, but rather that you perfectly communicatied the voice which we as members were beginning to find.

I suspect I am unlike the majority of the electorate in that I have found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with everything our party has done since taking office.

One thing I am sure about, though, is this: if the Liberal Democrats go back on our line of reasoning this will be a terrible thing for us. Here is why.

If the Liberal Democrats were to move to the left, it would be seen by the general electorate as a cynical move.

The prevailing view that “Liberal Democrats” have always been a party of “left” values is foreign to me. What is “left”? Socialism? Does this sum us up?

Globally, “austerity” has become a dirty word, and not without reason; fascist governments across the globe use equivalent words that are designed to conjure-up a sense of diligence and national pride. Putting the significance of that word aside, what other course could a country that was in our position take? What course do we take now? Can we credibly support the anti-capitalist movements? Can we find other ways to make the country a fairer place? These are questions for ongoing discussion.

I am in favour of a party that shifts left or right according to our country’s greatest need. It’s our ‘up’ness towards liberal values that persist throughout the shifting political landscape.

The media always seek to push our party to the left or right in their representation. Over the last five years there’s been a feeling our party made an error in its shift: a desertion of the left. The real truth is that the Liberal Democrats is a family that encompasses different opinions on this debate. A true pluralist party. Let us be clear: the view we made an error in moving to the left is primarily rooted in a media wishing to pigeonhole us as part of the only political system they know and understand: a polarised system. The media does not understand us. We aren’t right or left. We are Liberal.

The road most travelled in today’s democracy is to show party members and the wider electorate that “heads have been taken”, that a new leadership will take a party in a fresh direction.

The Labour Party made this mistake after the 2010 election. Their strategy was driven by the need to show voters who they were different to New Labour. Their leader, a man with a huge brain and a big heart for Labour values, was so tightly bound by this narrative that even his communication style became sanitised. His every word checked by public relations officer executives. This was not a problem of ‘sticking to a media brief’ but rather a problem of ‘being choked by a popular political narrative’.

With hindsight we can see this narrative was “Tory-lite”.

We can do better. We are no “Labour-lite” or “Tory-lite”.

No, we must learn from the SNP whose message was positive, and whose candidates were women.

Any soul searching we do now must be an extension of the last five years of soul searching. We are a party of ongoing soul searchers.

But the new message coming from numbers of people joining our membership is that the electorate also have some soul searching to do.

Rather than “entering a period of soul searching” (please let me never hear that on the radio!) we must instead lift our heads in pride.

Nick Clegg, will you please – for members like me who joined the party shortly before the 2010 election and have remained supportive ever since – please stand for re-election for party leadership?

I will personally campaign to ensure that our party sends a strong message to voters that, by deserting us at this election, they have given themselves an even stronger Tory government. That Liberal values matter more now than they ever did.

And I will campaign within the party to ensure that you, Nick, receive the strongest vote of confidence when it comes to the leadership election for our party.

Yours faithfully,

Mat Smith

May 14

I have discovered a new use for chocolate

As an “extreme owl” I often stay awake working in the night time.

Mornings are therefore not enjoyable for me. Even when I have a lie-in I can feel grumpy until the coffee flows.

I’m not sure if this is because my senses are heightened or if they are asleep. Either way, I reckon I am more sensitive than most to changes in light, sound, smell, and definitely taste.

Aside from the obvious side effects of morning hatred such as inability to open eyes and short-lived rage at the world (which incidentally can be extended into a general ratty mood for the rest of the day if some negative external thing happens during this window of opportunity) – aside from this I have another strange symptom.

I can’t put anything in my mouth. No water, no food, not even coffee. I have to be awake for at least 45 minutes before attempting to do this. Is this normal?

Today I discovered an exception: 3g of Dark Chocolate.

Not the sweet caramel substances you find in the newsagent. I mean the kind that you put in your mouth which, if stored in a larder, tastes like a cold, hard lump of nothing for the first few seconds.

This is perfect. The initial shock to the tastebuds (texture, sour, salty, watery) I experience with most other foods makes we want to run for cover.

But chocolate is neutral at first. It is already the right temperature for the mouth before it goes in. Then as it warms the flavour gently develops into something that is neither too sweet nor too bitter. It turns into a warm goo, much like being handed a soft blanket.

It gently wakes up the tastebuds.

Then as it disintegrates it slowly releases more and more interesting natural flavours. In doing so it activates the bitter and the sweet receptors just the right amount if it’s the correct balance of cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugars. It activates the sour receptors shortly after this, and gives them something to think about if the chocolate has a red fruit (cherry, raspberry, or strawberry) note.

The chocolates I like are more naturally fruit-like than nut-like, but even my favourite chocolates have a small amount of nut-like flavour, which also stimulates the salt glands – and we know what that does for saliva.

And all it takes is half a square of good chocolate.

Chocolate, I love you.

Jan 14

An open letter to my Facebook friends

Facebook, it seems, has become a front-end for cheap, baiting, advert-laden websites like Buzzfeed and apparently my Facebook friends are falling for it by the droves by posting links to “Top ten tatoo fails”, “8 reasons you are single”, “10 things you can do to be nice to a single person”, etc.

I thought Facebook and its evil advertising ways was the devil – not my friends themselves!

Get out there and create your own engaging content, write your own blogs, talk about your own life experience, create your own world – an authentic one, one that does’t pander to the brain-numbed masses, one that requires some kind of attention span to read – instead of posting links to pointless articles that only draw your friends into the frivolous world you inhabit online!

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a great writer, photographer, baker, political mind, whatever. Your friends will read it and like it because it’s you, because they are your friends, and because you expressed a piece of yourself.

I have no problem with posting links to newspapers, news stories, or even the odd mild distraction to your friends.

But spare us the copious amounts of crap that line the pockets of sites like Buzzfeed who only exist to bait link clickers, and to profit from the lemming-like nature of unthinking humans.

Such websites have utterly no intention of making a positive contribution to humanity, to an online community, no intention to inform or educate. They are not built around a particular subject or theme. They are the internet’s cess pit and you are pulling your own friends into it when you post such links. Stop it!

Mar 13

One week today

The last seven days have been a blur. I have eaten and slept, but only because of the efforts of my nearest and dearest.

One week ago today, a kind man – a man I may never meet – was walking with his dog through an open green space in South London.

At first this man must have wondered why his dog, which had disappeared into the middle of a copse a few hundred yards ahead, was barking incessantly.

After a few minutes of calling and whistling, the man must have realised he could not bring his dog to heel and so went to see what the fuss was about.

Nothing could have prepared the man mentally or emotionally for what he was about to see.

For there, through a small opening into the copse in which the dog was barking, he saw a human body, hanging from a tree.

I never had the chance to tell my dear brother Steve how much I loved him.

I did not visit him daily in hospital.

I did not lock myself in a padded cell with him until his terrors were over.

I did not rugby tackle him to the ground.

I did not think up a master plan for his survival even more intricate and watertight than the far-fetched conspiracies he had built-up in his poor tortured mind over the years.

Why not? I was capable of doing these things. Because he didn’t let me close enough to see the signs? Was I simply not good enough to figure them out myself?

I have seen signs before in others. Like the dog with its killer sense of smell, you could not put me off that scent. I have called parents in the middle of the night to tell them to come to the hospital soon because their daughter may not make it – and please take a taxi.

I knew he was very ill; at Christmas time I tried to rally the troops around him to show a unified front of love and support. I failed.

I did not know he was that ill; since last week I have learned his family, my family, knew of his intentions. Since then I have heard his friends were party to the intimate details of his plans. Since then I have read diaries, letters, emails, text messages. Since then I have hacked his computer to find his final goodbye note.

Since then I have felt his darkness, hugged his children, reasoned with their mummy, cried uncontrollably.

Since then I have tried to reconcile this new Steve I did not know with the old Steve I grew up with.

My tears have turned to frustration at my parents’ inability to discern his truths from his lies. I have listened to every part in the play justify, defend, blame themselves, blame others, disagree, blame doctors, sob.

Since then I have identified the five stages of bereavement, related them to my own loss, tried to break free from them, in order to support my family, and failed. Like a rat stuck on a treadmill.

I considered myself enlightened and strong. I am neither enlightened nor strong.

Since then I have learned of his mantra over the last few months: better an end with terror than terror without end.

I have of course taken my mind to that dark place. Researched his hanging technique. Found out just how much planning was necessary. Walked through the procedure in my mind. Read medical accounts, reviewed statistics, and cried at the sheer terror of the fact that hanging was, for Steve, less painful than the mental torture he was suffering.

I understand mental illness this much: it is an entire mystery. I have not felt such terrifying depths of depression myself, but I have spent sleepless nights before Steve’s death trying to feel it. Trying to understand what it must mean to be unable to pull myself together.

I have heard hints in the past from Steve’s friends about how dark his thoughts had become. Nothing shocked me. I am not shocked by things which 99% of the rest of humanity would be shocked by. Why didn’t he talk to me? I am unshockable.

I imagine that Steve lost his battle with mental illness approximately twelve hours before the point he was found. Unbeknownst to me, this had a been a long battle lasting more than several years. How had I not known this?

Dear readers and friends, if you take just one thing from this, please contact a loved one, or even a distant friend, whom you know – or even suspect – struggles with depression or mental illness.

Go gently, but go. Ask questions until you are weary. Ask the difficult questions. Ask how bad it has been for them at its worst. Ask how they thought they might end it all. Go into the detail even if it does not seem appropriate. Just ask questions.

You may think they have people closer to them who are better placed to support them.

Forget that. Forget other people. Ask the questions yourself. Meet them in their darkest place, if you have the strength to do this. Of course, this can cause more harm than good if you are not prepared. But at least consider it. Consider opening up a dialogue.

Or if you have yourself battled, I would like to hear from you. Have the courage to share your mental state with someone you know can be trusted.

We live in a culture which has, in the most part, banished shame from mental illness, and so there are no excuses.

To my personal friends: I’m not taking calls right now. I need you to be there for me when I do, though.

Please donate to the charity below:


Jul 12

Surely nobody thought “Fiscal Union” was really a good idea?

Far from being an Orwellian nightmare, I love the idea of greater fiscal and political union with our neighbours. Maybe it could even work… in 100-500 years?

But right now, as long as different countries within Europe teach different versions of history, value different types of trade, have different climates that affect their vastly diverse national identities – and not to mention different politics – I believe a single currency is a terrible idea.

Why? A given generation’s workforce in a given country (or ‘economic zone’) depends on the social values of its predecessor generation(s).

Example: let’s talk dinner parties. Your average dinner party of middle-aged professionals in Germany would hold an ‘engineer type’ in the same esteem we Brits hold ‘artist types’ (i.e. high esteem). The UK is largely numerically illiterate and, with the possible exception of medical professionals, we pretty much like to make fun of scientists.*

* I attend dinner parties (not with the middle-aged) with people who do like scientists. I am basing this on media representation, proportion of elected MPs who are actual scientists, the take-up of science subjects at ‘A’ Level or degree, school results in science and maths, and other soft statistics / observations.

If, within the global economy, money is to be made from science rather than art, then Germany is going to whip our asses, whichever metric you use to define economic success (GDP, GPI, etc.)

Now let’s say Germany and the UK were in some kind of hypothetical fiscal union. Given the above, the UK would need to become more competitive on a global scale, otherwise it would run out of money and not be able to buy drugs for the NHS or pay teachers to maintain a decent education system. It would have to ask Germany for a loan. Of course, it could go elsewhere looking for a loan, but I’m pretty sure Germany might have something to say about that.

Sure – in the short term, the ailing UK would benefit from being in the fiscal union, as it would mean it could pay for those drugs, teachers, police, prisons – and maintain some kind of status quo. But it really will need to buck-up its ideas. The problem is: how can it become more competitive? The UK can’t simply change its interest rates – they no longer exclusively control the bank! Businesses can’t magically pay their employees more to attract more talent.

British people won’t magically decide they suddenly like scientists over artists. Worse still, the position of Germany would ironically make Brits dislike scientists even more.

(Aren’t we already seeing the above phenomenon, where although a country is benefiting from being in union with stronger country, they are ironically resenting them at the same time?)

Eventually Germany would have to say to Britain, “right. You need to become more numerically literate if this is going to work”. Germany would invest in education programmes in the UK for decades, but this wouldn’t address the core issue.

This scenario can only end in one of two ways:

1) an amicable break-up of the fiscal union
2) full-scale … wait, don’t mention the war …

The above is of course a hypothetical, over-simplified version of the truth.

But tell me dear readers, do you agree with the basic analysis?

Mar 12

Clicktivism or Slacktivism?

I know, I know; the Kony 2012 subject has been done to death. I don’t plan to weigh-in too heavily on the debate, except to make a small comment on what the media has termed “clicktivism”. Or indeed what sceptics have termed “slacktivism”.

Before I go on: my viewpoint on the campaign. Naturally it goes without saying that a Brit such as myself sees the “Stop Kony” campaign – or rather the more bizarrely named “Kony 2012” (more akin to a Presidential election campaign title, right?) – with a healthy dose of scepticism. I wouldn’t go as far as Charlie Brooker did in likening it to a cult, after all Kony is not a myth and his well-known LRA has been in operation for almost 2 decades, throughout which time numerous atrocities have been reported by the international media.

No, Charlie Brooker’s attack on the campaign was in itself egotistical, and attempting to make comedic capital out of the systematic rape and murder of kidnapped children by a man whose arrest warrant was issued by the ICC a decade ago is unfathomably stupid and shallow.

Satire should be relevant; as such Brooker might have focussed on the core debate which includes the organisation’s transparency, immediate fame, and efficacy. A little side-poke at the ‘cultish’ nature of the campaign might have been more palatable in this case.

Back to the matter in hand: “clicktivism” or “slacktivism”.

Although, in themselves, these terms are cringeworthy, they point towards a social phenomenon unique to the new Twitter/Facebook generation. That is, the belief that fame in itself can solve problems.

Over the last few days on social media, I’ve seen examples of this;

  • a young black English rap artist (early on in his career) tweeted about wanting to make friends with the rich in Chiswick, because he believes that by association this will bring more fame to his music career
  • a young New Yorker friend of mine posted a video on Tumblr of herself saying “our job is to stop Kony, we have the power to do something. As internet users, teenagers have the power to control how famous Kony becomes”.

Whilst the first is obviously a clear case of today’s obsession with celebrity over that of talent, the second is worthy of a little more debate.

I’m in two minds about the effect of fame on politics and international law. On the one hand I lament the fact that charities like Oxfam and Amnesty have been chipping away at this campaign for decades, and one single-issue movement gathers pace, produces a glitzy video, and blows their attempts on the given issue out of the water by engaging young people.

On the other hand, is this not just the new form of political campaign? Throughout the history of representative democracy, politics has been about issues and people gathering fame, whether this involved those on the campaign trail knocking on doors and delivering leaflets, or more recently making glamorous videos. Was not the Obama ’08 campaign the blueprint for the latter?

Head of Research at Oxfam UK, Duncan Green, blogs with scepticism about the issues of fame and charity. Whilst he makes some valid points about the absorption rate of human rights issues into the minds of young people, I can’t help feeling that his response focusses mainly on the style of the campaign rather than the effect it might have. He is “appalled” by the tone, the depiction of Africa, and the “feelgood schmaltz”. Whilst I don’t personally like these aspects of the Kony 2012 campaign, these are the very things that made it successful, and brought 60 million viewers to the cause. They are mere stylistic objections.

In summary, whilst I want to dislike the whole focus on glamour, the Invisible Children published a thorough response to current criticism of their campaign, detailing their breakdown of expenditure.

If the pie chart tells a truthful story, then I’m all in favour of how they are spending their money and running their ads.

Those who want charities to remain chipping away quietly at issues of human injustice rather than making grand statements that engage young people may have to start rethinking their position, because global, single-issue movements will play an increasing part in the future of charitable giving.

Dec 11

The Pluralist Paradox

Deep down inside of me, there is a swing voter waiting to get out.

A true British I-don’t-really-know-what-I-think voter, someone who could go both ways. Hell, I could go three or four ways.

I know, dear imaginary reader, you are thinking, “but how can someone so … so – political – how can you not be true and loyal to a single party?”

Don’t get me wrong. The swinger inside of me is not the typical British non-thinker. Not the common man on the street who waits until there is a critical mass of others to think on their behalf so they can chime in at the last minute and back the winning party. Not the fickle man on the street who just loves to complain about whichever party is in power and backs the opposition because, “there’s no possible way we could have four more years of the same old [insert current governing party here]”.

No, my swinging tendencies come from much, much deeper within me. My struggle is thus:

On the one hand, surely our socio-economic outlook looks far prettiest when people are allowed to do what they want whilst not harming others; a liberal, pluralist society? What is wrong for you might not be wrong for me, and therefore we should agree not to legislate for what you consider to be wrong, because it would be unfair for me. Instead we should just hang out / do business with people who have similar views to our own.

Of course we should have high taxes and good quality public services. This isn’t a matter of politics, it’s a matter of economies of scale: pooling resources allows us to reduce overheads. (I’m talking theoretically, of course.)

But on the other hand – and please excuse my Newtonian worldview (blame my Christian parents) – given that humanity, if left unchecked, tends towards selfish and greedy behaviour, perhaps after all it doesn’t look that fabulous when people are allowed to do what they want.

Here I cite the global financial crisis as being caused by unfettered or poorly-regulated capitalism.

Or what about society and the family? It is horribly non-liberal to interfere with matters of the family: married couple tax breaks between man and woman, making it legally difficult and expensive to get a divorce, reducing benefits to single mothers and punishing walk-away fathers who don’t take responsibility.

Whilst the above may offend our sense of social liberalism, let us hypothesise what their long-term effect on society might be, and therefore the effect on our economy and, eventually, our wealth as a nation of individuals. In economic terms, those societies defined by people pulling together (be this around the traditional unit of the family, or otherwise) are the ones that generate wealth for their futures. Those societies that are fragmented and socially disorganised are the ones that get poorer.

Given humanity tends towards greed and ultimately destruction (we agree on this, do we not?), and given in my example of the family above this would mean men will love women then walk away from them unless there is a compelling financial reason not to, perhaps a liberal society with fewer rules is a less successful, inferior one?

I used the construct of family to make my point, but this could equally apply to other constructs.

And this is the crux of my indecision. Conservative rule is too socially prescriptive. Labour rule causes too much fragmentation of society to allow for growth or progress. Liberal Democrat rule… well, our party just gets laughed-out or shouted-at most of the time.

What is my problem with political loyalty? Why do I mistrust staunch Labour party members, staunch Conservative party members, or staunch Any party members?

Is it that my world view espoused above is essentially flawed? Is it that I’m merely a liberal mind trying to get out of a conservative body? Or is it because my politics derive too directly from the existential questions in my head? Or is this a common Paradox of Pluralism?

Sep 11

How Sociable is Facebook towards Developers?

If Facebook wants to be the social ‘platform’ on which the web resides – a grand vision, but an attainable one – it had better start being nicer to web developers. That’s because the new algorithm it’s developed no longer grants access to particular sections, disabling marketing experts from companies like The Marketing Heaven to give chance to budding social media business persons.

For years, Facebook has been a taker, not a giver. What other platform begs you to feed information into it in the form of personal user data, communications, shared web content (and its corresponding metadata), provides proprietary mechanisms for you to identify your own independently-hosted web content to Facebook, and then refuses to let you feed anything out again except by using a tiny suite of ‘widget’ style, iframe-based pieces of javascript: unstylable, uncool, and uncooperative. God forbid you should try to scrape anything to create your own feeds from these stubborn widgets – or from anywhere else – lest you put your own Facebook account in jeopardy for violating their terms.

And should you ever try to interpret the meaning of anything that isn’t ‘being a friend’ – for example you need to engage users with your company – you really must let Facebook call the shots on these interactions, too. It was only a year ago Facebook decided you would rather “Like” an entity than “Become a fan” of it. And now – subscribe? Is that the same as like? Is it similar to what you do with an RSS feed? I don’t have a problem with the evolution of change, but it’s frustrating seeing businesses having to tweak their social media paradigm just because Facebook didn’t get it right first time.

Facebook has taken a lot of unfair flack in the last decade, mainly because of their refusal to be pigeonholed into either a platform for private data (e.g. email) or one for public data (e.g. blogs). Despite a number of iterations in its privacy interface (ranging from the bizarre/arcane to the really-quite-sensible), Facebook still struggles to convince its users that controlling the privacy of their data is not exactly rocket science. It was solely because of its popularity, and the fact it became lowest-common-denominator for personal communications online (read: “it attracted stupid people”) that Facebook suffered an exponential amount of bad press regarding its ‘security issues’. I shudder even writing those words, for one thing Facebook has not had major PR problems within its lifetime, at least as compared with any other social network you care to mention, is security – in the technical sense. It’s merely the media’s interpretation of the word I’m using here.

Of course, Facebook was absolutely right to keep strong tabs on its data and interface early-on. I’m sure it wasn’t as much a branding reason as the fact Zuckerberg didn’t want to get sucked in to the same issues MySpace did, where users were encouraged to ‘personalise’ their pages, ultimately resulting in a social network that was unusable for all.

But surely the time to open-out (I’m not talking about styling one’s profile page) came and went about three years ago? Instead, at this time, Facebook was buttoning-down its strategy so as to retain as much data as possible whilst making it slightly more interactive with the rest of the web. And so was launched the adoption of the “Social Graph” model.

I’m hoping that any changes taking place over the coming months may involve Facebook adopting an open standard. Not the kind of “open” mentioned in Zuckerberg’s blog post from a year ago, but a real kind of “open”.