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This blog will soon be 10 years old, and if you’re reading this you’re invited to the party

blog915 Back in 2005 I was coming towards the end of my term as President of JEF-Europe but I still had ideas. No one will ever invite me to speak at conferences again I thought, so I better try writing things instead. Some friends of mine in Swedish politics were blogging at that time and they inspired me. I thought I would have a go at writing about the European Union, British politics, and whatever else caught my imagination. The blog post that started the whole thing off is here, and my first serious post was about why passengers are so inept at boarding planes.

The odd thing is that back then – and even now as well – I still do not consider myself a writer. But after 1900 blog posts, and a total of 591000 words (enough to fill 5 books), and 11000 comments left by readers, this blog has somehow come to define who I am. While blogs like Nosemonkey and Fistful of Euros started before I did, and Kosmopolit and Julien Frisch shortly after me, I have nevertheless – through stubbornness and persistence – churned out more blog posts about European Union politics (and plenty of other things besides) in the last decade than any other individual. The rise of Twitter, and my intensive use of it (63000 tweets so far) from the autumn of 2008 onwards has proven to be a tremendous complement to the blog.

The blog has had a few successes over the years – it ranked high on Iain Dale’s old blog lists back in the early days, was the launch pad for the atheist bus campaign, became the place for the most intense debate about to pass the Commission entrance exams, and was one of the blogs at the start of BloggingPortal. Writing this blog has allowed me to meet hundreds of people in real life that I would never otherwise ever meet, play some sort of role in the political debate I would never otherwise have, and has remained my favoured place to express my thoughts. I was living in London when I started it, and it has accompanied me to Brussels, back to London, to Copenhagen and now to Berlin. It has been an ever present through whatever other tumult I have been facing in my life.

Anyway, to celebrate the first 10 years of the blog (the exact anniversary is 19th July 2015), you are invited to the 10 Year Anniversary on Saturday 18th July in Berlin. If you are reading this, consider yourself invited. There will be a barbecue (or blogbecue if you like) at Tempelhofer Feld grilling area on the Columbiadamm side from 1800 onwards. Food will be provided, but bring your own drinks. I’d simply ask you to confirm your attendance by e-mail, by DM on Twitter, or by commenting below, so I can have an idea of numbers.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

Twitter’s defective account suspension ‘system’

I’ve registered a whole bunch of Twitter accounts over the years for a variety of purposes. Recently two of these accounts were suspended by Twitter, and the process of what (didn’t) happen as a result requires a little bit more analysis. Both were suspended in late March 2015, and I contacted Twitter to appeal the suspensions shortly thereafter.

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Politicians blocking users on Twitter

IMG_7731Yesterday evening I was browsing Twitter, and saw this tweet about serious allegations of election fraud by UKIP from Labour politician John Mann (Bassetlaw) retweeted into my timeline. Oh, I’ll retweet that I thought (I’m on John’s side here, not UKIP’s), but Twitter prevented it – it turns out my main Twitter account (@jonworth) is blocked by @JohnMannMP – see screenshot.

This perplexed me, as I have only ever twice tweeted John Mann – both of these tweets from 27 November 2013 (it required searching to locate as I couldn’t even remember them – thanks Andrés):

In these tweets my critique is at least as much levelled at Crick as it is at Mann, although confusing a social democrat with the populist right wing is a bit of an error in my view. But as those are the only tweets I have ever written to John Mann, I can only presume those are the reason I am blocked. I of course cannot tweet John Mann to ask because, well, I am blocked, and hence have no way to reach him on Twitter any more. I am also not the only one to be blocked by Mann, and be perplexed as to why. Are those tweets really reason enough to block someone?

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Why Twitter works better than Facebook for discussions about the EU


Following my earlier blog entry about Twitter chats I was confronted by a familiar charge – ah, Frans Timmermans is a Facebook guy. He doesn’t like Twitter. That’s the problem. There are probably some pretty good reasons he likes Facebook, and not Twitter, and I will come to those at the end of the post.

But, sorry Frans, but I don’t “Like” your page on Facebook, and I have some pretty good reasons for that.

The first, and most minor problem, is my issue with the word. To me “Like” implies endorsing something. Follow (on Twitter) does not. I in no way endorse Frans Timmermans. Oh, you’re exaggerating will come the riposte, yet when I “Liked” Guy Verhofstadt in his bid to become Commission President, friends of mine fired back the accusation that I was wrong to Like Verhofstadt as he’s a liberal and I am leftie. What you like on Facebook comes with a social norm attached. If I saw a journalist Liking politicians it would raise a question mark about their impartiality, and there are personal friends of mine who refuse to Like anything political on Facebook because they fear what work colleagues will make of it.

Second, Facebook is useless for thematic discussion. I might have some interest in what Timmermans does on Better Regulation in Brussels, but I also have interest in what a dozen other politicians might have to say about that. Putting it another way, I want to be able to consume content from people and to consume content by theme. Only by Liking the Facebook pages of a dozen politicians could I possibly follow a thematic debate, and even then it would be split up all over Facebook without any coherence. Hashtags on Twitter are what can hold a thematic discussion together – hashtags on Facebook have never proven to be nearly as effective.

Third, Facebook controls what I see, while on Twitter I am to a much greater extent in control of what I see (and my obsessive use of Twitter Lists and filters in Tweetbot helps further). The problem is Facebook’s News Feed, and its algorithm that will only show me – on average – 1 in 20 posts from a politician’s page, and then according to factors Facebook determines rather than ones I determine. That might be handy for information I was not looking for (it throws up significant developments in friends’ lives, for example) but it’s pretty horrid if I am trying to follow a debate.

Those then are the reasons Twitter works better for EU political debate than Facebook does in my view.

Then finally my feeling about why Facebook appeals to Frans Timmermans: because Facebook inspires a kind of fan-like fervent following for this most supremely confident and charming politician, who gives the impression that he is rather a fan of himself (perhaps with good reason). Frans seems to be more about Frans than he is about the issues – you Like Frans because he is Frans and worth following. That feels good for his ego. And that’s a perfect match on Facebook.

Commission Twitter-chats: interactivity-washing

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 14.40.50At 1600 CET today, First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans will do an online chat on Twitter and Facebook* – tag is #AskFrans. Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc will do the same on Monday 27th April at 1400 CET – tag there is #ITS2015chat.

Oooooh, look, little users of social media! Come and ‘chat’ to the Commissioners for an hour! Look at how interactive I am!

So the Commissioners can thereafter resort to form and then broadcast out pictures of them shaking hands with people, or retweet quotes of theirs spoken at events, for the rest of the time.

Put it another way: Twitter chats are convenient interactivity-washing – they demonstrate some engagement, but strictly on the Commissioner’s own terms, and at a time they themselves set. In the case of Bulc and Timmermans it therefore means that @-replying them at any other time is like tweeting into a black hole. Not only is next to impossible to get a reply from either of them, but it is also a perfectly reasonable assumption that none of the everyday tweets written first person in their name are actually written by them. If you doubt it, look for any sort of normal Twitter interaction here from Timmermans or here from Bulc – you won’t find any. Malmström and Georgieva are the exceptions in the Commission, not the rule.

That doesn’t mean these chats are useless – they are better than nothing. But they are far from being the solution for good online communications from Commissioners!

* – yes, I am aware that Timmermans is more of a Facebook fan than a Twitter person, but Twitter is the social network for EU policy discussion, and all Commissioners are present on it.

Slave to the freelance life

I am sat writing this in the train between Berlin and Brussels. It’s the 7th time I am taking this trip (or the opposite direction) in 2015; in 2014 I did it 25 times. Yes, I could fly, and pump some more CO2 into the atmosphere to save myself 90 minutes each time, but that’s not the issue here.

I am off to a city – Brussels – that I visit too often for work purposes, to do work I have done too often and is hence no longer as fun as it once was, for pay that is inadequate given the time and responsibility it entails.

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Ubuntu and Linux Mint – first steps on an iMac

logosGetting Linux to run on a Mac is notoriously tricky, but I was willing to experiment and work out how tricky it all is. This blog entry sums up my first efforts, and will be updated in the future when I have learnt more.

Mac hardware
I was using a 2008 iMac 24″ (specs) with 6Gb of RAM, and 2 internal hard disks for these tests – an internal 120Gb SSD, and an internal 500Gb hard disk. This Mac has a NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GS (more about that later). If in doubt check the specs on EveryMac before you start. All data was backed up from the machine, and hence I could reformat disks as much as I wished. I used my second Mac (a MacBook Pro) to create the bootable USB keys I needed for the process. Continue Reading

Never buy anything from Compuland – they sent me an empty box

I wanted to buy a computer monitor, and rather than ordering from Amazon, I chose a smaller firm instead – Compuland, based in Wilhelmshaven. The order was a story of woe, and awful and ridiculous service – and they sent me an empty box. There is no way I will ever order from this firm again. Here I will explain what happened. If this story makes you change your mind about Compuland, then do please leave a comment below. Continue Reading