Downcast in Davos

With the recent market gloom, it's no surprise to hear that the mood in Davos was a bit sombre this year. But no, Adrian, I can't imagine that the modesty of Davos is a coincidence, after all it's Switzerland: remember Calvin? I hear his thoughts on frugality and capitalism has had quite a major impact on Swiss mentality ... in fact, it's not so dissimilar to what you find in Norway (at least with the older guard), or any country where protestantism has had a major foothold....


Picture by Jean-Bernard Sieber (via Sambrook)

Blog buzz revealed election results

Want to know the results of next year's US election? Follow the blog buzz. At least if this Norwegian experiment is anything to go by:

A blog measuring the blog buzz around Norway's political parties and key political issues proved to be quite accurate when it came to predicting the winners and losers in yesterday's local election.

I must admit that I was very sceptical, and remain sceptical, to whether measuring the frequency of keywords, or correlations of keywords, in the blogosphere, is a reliable way to predict election outcomes.

Still, just as political scientist Dag P. Svendsen predicted on his blog, the election winners were indeed The Labour Party (AP), The Progess Party (Frp) and The Conservative Party (H), although the differences between their gains from the last local election were marginal (currently 2,1pc, 1,2pc and 1pc). As for the losers, Svendsen's predictions were correct for The Socialist Party (SV), but incorrect for The Liberal Party (V) and the Christian People's Party (Krf).

Before the election I said I had little faith in using quantitative analysis of blog buzz to predict election results or to measure how concerned people are about different political issues:

A quantative analysis doesn't look at what values people attribute to the party or issue, and is hampered with methodological problems such as the risk of measuring spurious connections, how the blogosphere may not be representative for the population at large etc.

However, in this case the blogosphere proved to be an excellent mirror of the country's population. Now, THAT is interesting. So for all those out there who thought the blogosphere was the exclusive domain of nutters, crakpots and losers: at least in Norway, bloggers seem to be quite representative of the population's overall voting pattern.

I have also said I think blogs are comparable to digital versions of the conversations people have over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer, and as such the blogosphere can be a great resource for politicians who want to know more about what issues people are concerned about; how the political parties and the way they deal with these issues are perceived etc.

In other words, the blogosphere is an interesting place to keep an eye on both for forward thinking politicians and companies, but they will need to apply some sort of qualitative analysis in order to get the most valuable input.

Not to mention how the blogosphere offers fabulous opportunities for politicians to engage directly with their potential and existing voters, unmediated – especially in a local election in such a small country such as Norway, I might have added.

Sadly, I didn't see one top politician grasping this opportunity. Yes, quite a few of them had blogs at this election, put out some videos on YouTube even, but it bore every hallmark of being something they'd been told they should do – yet, with the exception of one or two youth politicians, didn't have a clue how to.

Two interesting tools for filtering the US political blogosphere in a meaningful way here (via Poynter's E-media tidbits).

How bloggers beat the big broadcasters to UK Election News

A follow-up post from Mike Rouse on my post about UK bloggers vs broadcasters:

As one of those trawling the blogs I can assure you that we were indeed ahead because of the priceless information posted on blogs very quickly. Some bloggers had contacts within counts, others posted from mobile devices while it seems others used their crystal balls. Either way, it meant we got the news quickly. I was using feed readers and live bookmarks to keep up-to-date and made use of the Firefox extension that automatically refreshes pages for you (full post here).

As BBC Parliament is showing the entire 1997 election night, when Blair came to power, today, Mike also recounts his whereabouts on that particular night: "Without trying to make any dear readers feel old, I was but 13 turning 14 when Blair came to power in 1997."

Nah, that just makes me feel ancient. I was some eight months past 19 (going-on-90) on that night, when I found myself in a Scottish-Independence-supporter stronghold in Queensferry with Scottish sci-fi writers, Ken MacLeod, Ian Banks, a poet, whose name I can't remember, and my friend Solan (whom, like me, I suspect wasn't too impressed with either political alternative).

What I remember best from that night was fighting a desperate battle to stay awake, since some drunken football hooligans had kept me awake on the night coach from Brighton to Edinburgh (!) the previous night (what I wouldn't suffer for brilliant conversations and company in those days, even eleven hours on a coach – it was worth it though). So when they announced that mudslide victory for Labour I was just delighted by the prospect of finally getting some sleep...

Prosecutor calls for journalist to be fined for logging onto intranet of political party

The 'hackers' in Sweden's most recent 'Watergate', which saw several Liberal Party activists, and a journalist, unlawfully log onto the intranet of the country's governing party in the run-up to last year's election, went on trial this week:

At the end of the trial, the public prosecutor called for two of its central figures - Liberal Party press officer Niki Westerberg and Per Jodenius, former press secretary for the party's youth wing (LUF) - to be given suspended sentences. Comparing their actions to industrial espionage, the prosecutor said that it was particularly grave in the lead up to a general election and represented a threat to the entire democratic system... The actions of each of the three other defendants - Niklas Svensson, LUF's regional chairman Nicklas Lagerlöf, and young Social Democrat Niklas Sörman - were not considered as serious. The prosecutor has called for each of them to be fined... "My source told me that I had been given the details to dig up scandals, or news, about the Social Democrats," said Niklas Svensson (via The Local).

He added that he never used any information from the Social Democrat's intranet for a story, and, in general, never took instructions from his sources. Since the scandal Svensson has reinvented himself as a blogger-commentator-journalist, and he and fellow blogger Daniel Alsén blogged about the trial on Politikerbloggen (in Swedish).

The court is expected to announce its verdict on 27 April.

Politicians Not Welcome

It's tough being a politician in Second Life. Despite the allure of a fabulous new and PR-friendly marketing platform, it's not quite the controlled environment they are used to, where policemen and security guards swiftly can be called in to deal with 'undesired elements'. Hell, it's unlike any other environment most politicians are used to, and many have found that 'interacting with digitial users' didn't take on quite the form they had bargained for:

At the start of this week, The Guardian reported how 'Italians seeking respite in cyberspace from the surreal world of Italian politics were fighting plans by a minister to build a campaign headquarters in there.' A more unpleasant surprise awaited US Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards at the start of last week, when his Second Life HQ was vandalized by Republican Second Lifers and haunted by a feces spewing obscenity. Then of course there's was Le Pen's brand new HQ in the virtual world that was bombarded with flying pigs a while back (still, it must have compared quite favourably to Le Pen's frequent experiences of being bombarded with rotten eggs in real life).

John Edwards' Second Life HQ vandalized

"This is the modern-day equivalent of hippies freaking out the squares. You see countless news stories about this, over and over again: the gray humourless drones of political parties or corporations rushing to establish a presence in Second Life because it's the thing to do, only to find themselves staring directly into the collective of the Internet's soul," wrote John Brownlee in Wired's Table of Malcontents, but one of his readers put it more bluntly in the comments:

"The way I look at it is that political idiots entered a realm that they do not and care not to understand. This would be like jumping in to World of Warcraft and expecting people to care about your political agenda... we just don't care."

Of course, politicians are neither the only ones, nor the first, who have met with 'violet' protests in this virtual world. CNET takes a closer look at Second Life 'grassroot activism' here.

The British Fredrik Reinfeldt meets, well... Fredrik Reinfeldt


What are they talking about? After comments like this, it was of course only a question of time as to when UK Conservative leader David Cameron would seize the chance to pick up a secret or two from the new Conservative Swedish prime minister, who came to power on a 'light blue Labour' ticket last autumn. I'm not sure if the picture was snapped during this week's visit to the 'daddy group' or the truck factory, but the discussion seemed to have centred on how to achieve a more 'balanced position', or huddling up as close as possible to the median voter as some would describe it: Reinfeldt administering advice and Cameron admitting to the UK Conservative Party's many failures, while the Press were spooked by the similarities between the two.

Reinfeldt's advice that Cameron should 'focus on finding solutions to voter's day-to-day problems' certainly brings many interesting discussion topics to mind (captions, anyone?) The meeting was of course widely reported, complete with grand mission statements and the usual gobblydygook, but I rather liked The Local's down-to-earth take on it...

Le Pen's new virtual HQ bombarded with exploding pigs

It was only a matter of time ...with the corporate world flocking to virtual worlds to evangelise about its products, and big media following close on the heels, the politicos were bound to arrive at some point. "Violent clashes have erupted" after Le Pen's National Front set up shop in Second Life, The Guardian reports today. Of course, this is not the first time Second Life citizens stage violent protests, as the story of virtual property magnate Anshe Chung illustrates.

So is Second Life the next big arena marketers and politicians need to conquer in order to stay on top of their game? The actual number of visitors and residents have been subject to some debate, and it's not an easy world to manoeuvre in, it takes a lot of time to adjust - time being a very limited commodity for some of us. It is, however, a great place for lectures, seminars and global education, just don't expect the virtual world to be a freehaven for all sorts of political persuasions - after all, Second Life citizens don't differ much from their real life counterparts.

Birdsong in Space

Fabulous headline from Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish):
I'm not sure if the word pun is intended, but the surname of Swedish astronaut Christer Fulgesang does indeed mean birdsong.
Mr Birdsong is the first Swede in space, a fact heralded by The Local as "one giant step for Swedenkind." While he journeys to the International Space station, Mr Birdsong will treat his fellow space travellers to the 'space version' of traditional Swedish delicacies like dried elk meat, crispbread and gingerbread biscuits. "Funnily enough, our food list now includes a type of yoghurt developed in Sweden – a space yoghurt," the astronaut told The Local a month ago.

Only in Sweden

Where else can you read these two headlines on the same day: "One in four Swedes think astrology is a science" and "Drunken elk terrorises schoolkids"... it has to be Sweden of course. That lovely, but slightly wacky place across the border from my current whereabouts.

That Swedes are stupid, are hardly news to Norwegians, who have suspected that for a good many years, but I guess it's worth mentioning that the survey, which found such a large percentage of Swedes subscribing to the 'science' of how planets rule their lives, is based on a rather limited sample (1,000).

Still... only the day before these headlines ticked out of what was once Scandinavia's only empire, we could read about a Swedish astronaut serving up elk in space, a story later picked up by Wired Blogs (an American based friend tells me that Scandinavian stories on elks, or moose as they call them, are quite vouge among her American friends). The Wired story did however fail to mention that the surname of the innovative astronaut who has decided to treat his fellow space travellers to dried elk meat, crispbread and gingerbread means 'Birdsong' (just to add to the stereotypes here). That said, I wonder what kind of image foreigners who read Aftenposten in English have of Norwegians... the site tends to feature an awful lot of stories on elks, polar bears and royals...

Second Life learning

Imagine a world where you could get your Harvard education via your computer in Timbuktu, or vote and propose new amendments in the virtual city hall, without ever having to leave your armchair. Those were the key sentiments I took away from this talk (picture below) on how virtual worlds may impact on real life. I was particularly taken by these lines: " involving the citizens in cyberdemocracy they learn more about the system, building both consent and legitimacy for decisions they have taken a more active role in. The gains made in efficiency from adopting information technology are secondary to this benefit."


Off to Second Life

Virtual worlds are not normally something I'd have the time or inclination to play around with, but tonight I'm attending a seminar about The New Virtual Frontier in Second Life. The place has received a lot of media coverage recently, especially after Reuters set up shop there, and some of it has caused angry rebuttals from long-time Second Life residents, so I'll be a bit careful with how I phrase this: Swedish think tank Eudoxa claims to hold the first public policy institute seminar in the virtual world Second Life tonight at 7pm Central Europe time. That sounds like a bit of an adventure to me, and since I love adventures and am always curious about the new and untested, I couldn't pass up on this opportunity, even though I have two of my favourite people staying with me this weekend (which probably means I'm turning into a bit of a geek):

Okay, landed on the wrong side of the island where the lecture is held due to a bug of some sort, so one of the main organisers told me. Managed to walk to conference hall, but this life/avatar is all new to me so can't even walk straight and have absolutely no clue as to how to make my avatar sit down, ah... that's how to do it...

At this point I realise that my internet connection is simply not good enough to attend a lecture in Second Life and blog it at the same time. Besides, how do I turn on the sound, that is, not the background music, but the lecture? I did make one previous research trip to the lecture hall to make sure I would find my way there when the lecture was on, but there are many more obstacles for a newbie in this world to deal with than I had anticipated. For one, at times when I stand up, my avatar appears to scratch what would have been its groin, had it been a man, without me touching anything on the keyboard. Rather embarrassing that, perhaps a sign that the software was developed by men...

Still the quality of the software is pretty impressive, and though you do feel a bit like you are entering an alien world where the gravitation is such that you have to relearn how to do even the most basic things, like walking, it sure beats having to get on an airplane to catch an interesting lecture.

I expect I might be back for similar events in the future, but as my friends whisk me away for a rare weekend off work, I doubt very much I'd ever find the time to do more than attend the odd lecture in Second Life (notes on the lecture will follow later).

Update: a few impressions, and picture, from the event here

Skeletons falling out of the closet

The new Swedish government may have presented its first budget yesterday, but it is goverment members dodging the TV-licence and using black market services that is attracting the biggest media headlines.

Three Swedish government ministers have been hauled over the coals for not paying their TV-licences. Cecila Stegö Chiló, the culture minister, was forced to resign over this yesterday. Maria Borelius, the trade minister who resigned on Saturday, failed to pay her licence for a short span of time, but was largely brought down by revelations about her personal economy, such as paying a nanny cash-in-hand. Tobias Billström, the integration minister, who is on sick leave, has cited ideological reasons for not paying his TV-licence and said that he "dislikes the programs".

Today Anders Borg, the finance minister, admitted to paying his cleaner cash-in-hand as well, which led a commentator in Svenska Dagbladet to chant "It's raining ministers" (in Swedish) and Dagbladet (link via Vampus) to write "Government massacre continues" (in Norwegian).

However, in Dagens Industri today Johan Norberg points out that: "in a government that represents the people, at least 8 of the 22 ministers should buy services informally. Because almost 4 out of 10 Swedes say that it´s ok - when they are interviewed over the phone by a stranger from a polling firm. So if the two resigning ministers are the only ones who did it, this government has distanced itself from normal people - but for the opposite reason than the one the commentators talk about."

Blogging Down the Government

That's certainly what the Swedish Social Democrat's must hope to be doing by setting up two blog platforms that will monitor the new centre-right coalition government who's 'usurped' the power they've held in Sweden for a decade or so. I'm reminded of a brilliant quote from Day of the Longtail: "they huffed, and they puffed and they blogged the house down" (freely adapted from Little Red Riding Hood, of course). It's good to see that the Social Democrat's fall from power at least has brought some new thinking to a party whose long reign has caused it to grow much too accustomed to power.

Blog coverage from election night in Sweden

The exit polls show that Sweden is likely to get a new government after today's parliamentary election. According to The Local's eminent election night blog, British Conservative Michael Trend was among the invited international guests at the Moderate Party HQ: "If he [opposition leader Fredrik Reinfeldt] wins, and according to the exit polls, he will, then I am going to call David Cameron the British Fredrik Reinfeldt," he told The Local.
To my mind, a blog is the perfect way to cover such an event and gives a much more genuine sense of the atmosphere than the ready-scripted TV interviews I've seen from the election night so far.

Updated results here.

A visual guide to Swedish Politics

For those who need to brush up on Swedish politics before Sunday's parliamentary election, here's an unusual representation of the political parties' actual voting records and alignments in parliament. It shows that despite Sweden's multi-party system, overall politics is 1-2 dimensional like British Politics, and, as one would expect, it reveals a tendency to converge towards the centre (or huddling up as close as possible to the perceived median voter as I like to phrase it). Via Andart.


Is Sweden's 'Watergate' a manufactured scandal?

In an election there's always so much spin floating around that it can be hard to decipher what's really going on, but here's an interesting thought: what if the 'hacking-scandal' was all manufactured by an ingenious, or not so ingenious, soul in the Social Democrat's youth party (SSU)?

Intriguing conspiracy-thoughts
Svenska Dagbladet has talked to a number of IT-experts who all say it beggars belief that the data intrusion, which had been going on for almost a year, wasn't discovered until now: then SSU's data security would surely have to be abysmal. SSU's spokesmen, on the other hand, say it's because the Liberal Party activists used the log-in details of SSU activists, who used the system all the time, that the intrusion wasn't discovered sooner. The Liberal party activist who first got hold of these details claims a SSU activist divulged them to him because he thought using a nick name both as password and username was very funny. The SSU activist in question vehemently denies this: as he would, it would probably spell the end of his political career. But what if he passed on those details knowing that the temptation to use them would be too big to resist, only to 'reveal' the intrusion at a convenient point in the election campaign, knowing that the Liberal Party activist would have no way of proving how he got hold of the details?

Just plain ol' hacking
That would be an intriguing scenario, though Aftonbladet provides another explanation for how the Liberal Party activists got hold of the log-in details. This one is not so gratifying for them: the paper speculates that they hacked SSU's computer network from the parking lot outside the SSU offices in Skövde, clearly a criminal offence and exactly what the data intrusion currently is being treated as.

Name calling
Since it's election time, this scandal has been called by a plethora of bad names and phrases. Marita Ulvskog, the Social Democrats party secretary has even compared Leijonborg, the Liberal Party leader, to a rapist, a comparison that caused an outcry in the Swedish feminist part. So now they all have something to talk about, while I, who wrote this in the wee hours, before I even had my first cup of coffee, but failed to post it until now due to other pressing deadlines, should maybe have kept my mouth shut... ah, well....

Labour's civil war

Yesterday's 'attempted coup' against Blair was pretty dramatic. Luckily, Tom Watson, the junior minister who resigned, has a blog where we can read not only his resignation letter but also some of the reactions it sparked (the comment section here is a must-read if you're interested in the arguments pro/con Blair/Brown and Blair's early/late departure. Link via Jackie Danicki). Here's what the betmakers are saying.

Journalist implicated in Sweden's latest 'Watergate'

A reporter has been suspended from Swedish tabloid Expressen after it was revealed that a Liberal Party activist who obtained access to the governing party's computer network had passed the log-in information on to him. This gave political reporter Niklas Svensson ample opportunity to study the Social Democrats' election strategy, but Svensson failed to inform his superiors of his 'good luck'.

Several Liberal Party activists are under suspicion for 'data intrusion', and only this morning Svensson's byline appeared in an article on how it is exepected the party activists will be interrogated by the police.

Link via DN/ The Local

The buck doesn't stop here

Of course the story about the young Liberal Party (FP) activists obtaining access to the computer network of Sweden's governing party on their own, without passing on information and with no benefits to the party, was a bit too implausible. Late last night Johan Jakobsson, FP's party secretary, was forced to resign after it became clear that he had known about the intrusion since mid-March. Jakobsson said he had told the main culprit to clear his conscience by talking to the press, but that the journalist he talked to chose not to publish the story. FP's Head of Press is under suspicion for encouraging the intrusion and using the information obtained from it for campaign purposes.

Yet another Swedish Watergate

The headline "Sweden's Watergate" was smeared all over Aftonbladet's frontpage 11 May 1976, four months before the election, after someone had broken into the government's offices. Now history repeats itself, but with a modern slant: why bother to go to all the trouble of committing burglary when you can get what you want by obtaining access to the governing party's computer network. Yes, I'm talking about that 24-year-old FP party activist again. Today another youth party activist has admitted to the same crime, a third is under suspicion, and political scientist Erik Åsrad has brushed the dust off the term 'Sweden's Watergate' in a soundbite eagerly picked up by a number of newspapers. In Norwegian press the soundbite has largely been omitted, but the term kept. The description was last used in February this year about the Social Democrats email campaign against opposition leader Fredrik Reinfeldt.