10
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?


22
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.

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”.