Britain’s Digital Time Bomb – A Call for University Funding

Yesterday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown outlined a series of initiatives for Britain’s digital future.

These initiatives can be summarised as:

  • The creation of a web portal called MyGov, that will allow individuals to personalise their experience to public services.
  • £30m worth of funding to create an “Institute of Web Science”, which will focus on the economic and social benefits of the web.
  • The publication of an online inventory of all non-personal datasets held by departments, creating a modern day "Domesday book".   
  • All public service contracts over £20,000 will be made available on a free online portal by the end of 2010. Thus allowing any suitable business to bid for them.
  • Roll out broadband access to all, with digital champion Martha Lane Fox broadening her role to set up a Digital Public Services Unit in the Cabinet Office
    Quoting Brown

I want Britain to be the world leader in the digital economy which will create over a quarter of a million skilled jobs by 2020; the world leader in public service delivery where we can give the greatest possible voice and choice to citizens, parents patients and consumers; and the world leader in the new politics where that voice for feedback and deliberative decisions can transform the way we make local and national policies and decisions.

Underpinning the digital transformation that we are likely to see over the coming decade is the creation of the next generation of the web – what is called the semantic web, or the web of linked data”.


Now, whilst I applaud the Government’s efforts in each of the areas above. I do have serious concerns about our IT future in 2020.  For Britain to be a true world leader in the digital economy, the Government must invest in universities for tomorrow’s IT graduates. Funding cut backs are already causing big problems and the disruption is only going to get worse.

Yesterday morning, I was alarmed to read Dr Black’s tweet on the lack of support for Computer Science courses. The link she provides leads to a report on the decline in computing graduates. (Read the full report below).



The report states:

The UK is currently sitting on a ticking time-bomb – all of the evidence shows a significant and increasing gap between supply and demand for IT professionals in the critical IT sector of the UK economy which, if left unchecked, will severely damage the competitiveness of UK industry in the global marketplace, and will hit smaller employers and the public sector particularly hard”.

The recession has caused many jobs within the IT sector to evaporate. This, coupled with the proposed closure of many computer science departments, is only going to make a bleak IT future for Britain. We need the best and brightest computer scientists to help deliver the wealth of opportunities that will appear on tomorrow’s digital landscape. Without a dedicated and passionate IT workforce, we risk a “brain drain”.

I completed my Information Systems degree in 1998. My course was more than than “a short journey into IT”. It has proved to be a true life skill. I’ve been lucky to work with a number of global businesses, in a continued cycle of learning and delivering value. My IS degree gave me the passion for that. Working alongside talented IT colleagues gave me inspiration to work harder, and to provide simplified business solutions.

Making sense of technology, and sharing that with the world is a wonderful and enriching feeling. IT graduates push the technology envelope further each day. Not only in the worlds of coding and architecture. But many, in the worlds of business, engineering and even geek marketing (Just like me!). IT graduates don’t think in black and white, they dream in colour.



Dear Gordon Brown,

Please don’t forget that Britain needs thousands of IT graduates for 2010. To provide them in sufficient numbers, computer science departments need adequate funding. Don’t allow them to close. Overseas expertise will eventually costs us dearly. 

Here’s a worrying paper, with a specific list of recommendations for you to consider.


The Decline in Computing Graduates: A Threat to the Knowledge Economy and Global Competitiveness

Freddie Laker of Sapient Nitro at #SMWF


In the last of my posts from the Social Media World Forum, comes a stand out talk from Freddie Laker, Director of Digital Strategy at Sapient Nitro. He kicked off his presentation stating that he was going to talk about “everything else that is social media”. Social Media is everywhere and is being used to:

  • Understand Influence
  • Create “The Digital Outdoor” billboard
  • Develop Product Design
  • Encourage Social Commerce
  • Design Augmented Reality


Today we live in a world of “Social Media Everything”, even TV is going online and becoming social. Brands need to recognise that consumers interact regardless, they don’t care if it is social media, they just interact.

The digital ecosystem is complex. We are now seeing the “digital outdoors”, with billboards being powered by Twitter.

Sites such as, are great sites to discover existing communities for your brand, you don’t always have to create one.

Freddie, discussed that the following brands are the ones to watch for social media:

  • Disney
  • Zappos
  • CocaCola
  • Unilever
  • Pepsi
  • Virgin

He noted, that we are building a massive, “Global Social Brain”. The share of voice is becoming more important than anything else.


P&G has taken a bold move, by allowing its audience to rate their products on the Olay website. Freddie says, “people are always rating you, don’t be afraid, embrace it!”.


Location based apps such as Foursquare and Gowalla have the potential to become huge. Some brands in the US, are already giving people incentives to “check-in”, into frequently visited places. For example, if you check-in regularly, Foursquare will make you a “Mayor” of that place. If the place is a coffee shop, the retailer can offer to give the Mayor a free mug of coffee (loyalty reward).

Getting your legal department on board is crucial before any deployment. Otherwise, they will act as a big barrier to effective social media engagement. Freddie advises that Brands should become “early adopters to reap the benefits”. Geo location is going mainstream. Facebook recently announced that they would be adding geo locations to status updates soon.

What’s the next big thing? It may very well be, “The Semantic Web” and should be something that businesses keep their eyes on for the future – “Beyond Nowness”, as Freddie puts it.


Trevor Johnson of Facebook at #SMWF


Next up was Trevor Johnson, Head of Strategy and Planning at Facebook Europe. His talk was entitled, “Social Changes Everything”. He discussed how a burglar stopped to update his Facebook status during a robbery! He was subsequently caught. “Social” is indeed everywhere and Facebook is a big touch point for so many of us.

Facebook is used by more than 400 million active users. Users spend on average 16 minutes on the homepage, and spend 28 minutes updating their profile during the day. Facebook has now also overtaken Google as the Web’s number one web property. Here are some others stats that Trevor shared:

· #1 property on the internet (time spent)

· 5 billion+ pieces of content uploaded every week

· 6 billion+ minutes spent online every day

· 2 million+ photos per second

· 250+ platform apps with over 1m active users

· 800,000+ websites use Facebook Connect

· 2 billion+ chat messages

· 60 million+ status updates each day

At the heart of Facebook is “Identity”. “Social” is built on 3 pillars (Identity, Sharing and the Facebook Platform). Identity is core, with real people sharing and connecting with their social graphs. Facebook is particularly focussed on the growing importance of identity & authenticity. And, opportunities that are driven by [Facebook] platform and technology. [Jas Note] Interesting, if Facebook wants to become the Identity on the web what comes next, the wallet?


Social gaming has growing significantly, games such as Farmville now have over 80 million users. Companies such as Evian, even have branded “virtual goods” now. Of note, the virtual economy is anticipated to be worth 10 billion this year, Trevor said.

Finally, Trevor showed a great example on how MySpace is using Facebook Connect to connect fans with music artists, using a viral video campaign called “Fan Video”. Take a look at the one I created here. Viral videos are now becoming personalised!

Key Summary Points (Simple steps for Marketers)

1. Make it social, leverage the platform and social graph

2. Keep it simple, get started and iterate

3. Don’t think in campaigns and silos, develop a conversational calendar

4. Think differently – harness new opportunities and experiment

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Katy Howell of Immediate Future at #SMWF


Next up was Katy Howell from Immediate Future (IF) – A Social Media agency. Disclosure: My employer retains the services of Immediate Future.

Katy’s talk did not focus on Social Media strategy, but from actual “real life” experiences from the field, as Katy put it, “Nuggets from Pioneers”.

Katy asked the audience to “think beyond the tools”. A particular IF client lost their Flickr page mid-campaign! She warned that there are hidden costs and content risks when using social tools. (Who actually owns the data?) Popular social media sites may implement a charge model in the future. She urged the audience to “think about the influencer”. Influence is not uniform. The influencer is not a replacement for the word “audience”. Katy stated that there are different types of influencers – Authoritative, Popular and Collaborative.

Her note to Brands, “STOP SHOUTING!” Influencers hate to be shouted at. Real time conversations (Tweets) now appear in Google searches, (Bing too :-). These may be the first touch point to your brand, and if you annoy your influencers their comments will be seen by all.


Katy went on to discuss, that we are reaching to a point of “viral and app fatigue”. She presented the following stats:

Your video on YouTube…

· 3.1% chance of getting over 1,000 views

· 0.3% chance of getting over 10,000 views

· 0.001% of getting over 100,000 views

Your App on Facebook…

· Joins half a million of others

· Is one of 140 loaded daily

Finally, Katy stated that 74% of businesses feel that proving Return Of Investment (ROI) is the greatest challenge for social media today. Transparency is key, laying out KPIs and “showing out your working” is vital for senior management buy-in. Be very clear about your objectives and what you are trying to achieve. Education for senior managers is also important. She gave an example, where a company found a negative comment on a 3rd party Facebook page. The management team’s response was to shut the fan page down and call in the lawyers. This doesn’t work, as it only aggregates the original poster, and moves the conversation to another site.

Reflections from the Social Media World Forum


On Monday (15th March), I attended the first day of the Social Media World Forum at London’s Olympia. The next series of posts, will be my reflections of the talks presented. I hope you find them insightful.

Keynote – Kevin Eyres of LinkedIn Europe.


Kevin Eyres, Managing Director of LinkedIn Europe, started his talk with a paraphrased quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of being Earnest, where Social Media and business come together as a marriage.

He stated that in his opinion, “…anyone who desires to understand Social Media should know everything or nothing”.


Kevin went on to discuss, that businesses need “Lenses”. Lenses can help to make better social media decisions. Businesses need to think about how Social Media can be adapted to their local businesses. Lenses also help us to examine “Universal Truths and Human Needs” (both social and knowledge). Humans are social beings, that are inherently designed to be part of a tribe where they connect with other members.

He went on to discuss how the “levelling of the playing field” has a created a Global economy with a new set of problems:

  • Hard to identify? [Global Economy]
  • Who do I trust?
  • How to collaborate?

Kevin’s talk them focussed on the following areas:

1. Innovation – will be driven by knowledge and information. (Incidentally, Linkedin had over 1 billion people searches in the last year).

2. Overloaded – (Information & Command). How many people go beyond page 2 on a search engine?

3. Social Media Facts – We are in “Infancy”. As a business, are you innovating or following someone else?

4. Voice, Identity & Filter – everyone has a voice today. A two-way dialogue is creating a lot of noise. What tools can we use to filter out the useful information?

5. Sharing Knowledge is powerful – It’s no longer what you know, but who you know. “Knowledge is Power” is dead.

6. Socially Aware Apps are the “game changers”. They bring efficiency for users, they help us format, filter and socialise knowledge.


The Global economy brings new opportunities and the birth of “The Accidental Entrepreneur”. Kevin talks about the case of Henk van Ess, who asked on a LinkedIn group, if there were any ways to extend the life of his iPhone battery? A representative from a Chinese manufacturer replied to his post and after some discussions, Henk has created a new online business that now sells long life iPhone batteries to consumers.

Empowered employees at the US electronics retailer BestBuy, solved surplus inventory problems. Shop floor staff created a forecast model, which was more accurate than the company system and was based on customer feedback. Empowered employees also use Twitter, @Twelpforce successfully as a customer support channel.

Before embarking on such initiatives, businesses need to ask themselves, what problems are they trying to solve? Don’t use social media because others are using it, use it to solve a business problem.

The iPad and the end of free online content?

After two months of promise and hype, Apple will finally ship its iPad tablet in the US in early April, and to other markets shortly afterwards. Apple’s new device hopes to make the consumption of digital media easier. The iPad is able to browse the web without the need for a keyboard or mouse. Movies and music can both seen and heard on the device. Even eBooks can be purchased from Apple’s new iBooks store. Marvellous.

However, from watching the video above, are consumers really willing to pay for online news and entertainment, that they currently get for free on the web today?

Nielsen recently asked more than 27,000 consumers across 52 countries, and the answer was ‘maybe.’ 85% of surveyed people prefer free content to remain free. However, participants did report, that many would consider paying for certain categories of digital content.

Looking at Nielson’s graph below, consumers are most likely to pay for movies, music, games and current TV shows. This is good news for Apple and other developers of Tablet devices. In contrast, consumers are least likely to pay for ‘user generated content’ such as podcasts and consumer generated videos and blogs.


The success of the Apple’s iPad, will likely depend on whether everyday consumers are happy to trade in their existing books, magazines and newspapers for digital equivalents. These items have become somewhat of a commodity, and many people are happy to access content from a variety of online sources for example, Google News for free. However, Rupert’s Murdoch’s News Corporation, will soon charge for online newspaper content, ending the “free online news” culture that many observe on the web today. This will likely have a big impact on Google News, which currently aggregates free news content from Murdoch’s news empire.

It is interesting to note from Nielson’s research, that there is indeed a place for “paid digital content.” However, the content will need to be of a sufficient standard before consumers are willing to hand over their hard earned cash.

  • 78% of participants felt that if they already subscribe to a newspaper, magazine, radio or TV service, they should be able to access the online version for free.
  • 79% of participants stated that they would stop using a website, if it started levying charges to access content online.
  • 62% of participants stated that they should have “full control” over their purchased content. In other words, they want to be able to copy and share it with their friends and family. 

2010 will indeed be an interesting year for hardware devices and the content that powers them. Whether consumers are willing to ditch their newspapers and magazines for their digital counterparts, and pay for news content is still yet to be seen.  Newspapers and books are cheap, portable and don’t require batteries to power them. The same can’t be said about tablet devices! Also, I wonder how many people will actually travel around with these devices? I suspect many will end up living at home.

Will you be getting a tablet device this year?

You can read Nielson’s full report below

Nielson – Paid Online Content