Tag Archives: the World Cup

The World Cup Changes

Maybe it’s cos I don’t follow other sports as slowly, but this World Cup is beginning to feel like a media watershed in several different — and surprising — ways.

  • First off, the supply of World Cup footage to YouTube, and “live” commentary by cellphone from those in the stadium to those outside threatens to overturn the tight FIFA controls on coverage and sponsorship. FIFA stewards can stop people wearing clothing or carrying banners that don’t support the official sponsors, but they can’t keep people’s cellphones out of the stadium. Can they?
  • Secondly the best writing has come from blogs, not from the traditional sports pages of newspapers. But these aren’t pure bloggers, they’re journalists blogging for their newspapers’ or TV stations’ websites. The Guardian, for example, has a stable of writers who have been pushing out excellent blogs. My favorite BBC blogger on the World Cup is Paul Mason, who is actually a business correspondent for the Beeb’s flagship program Newsnight. Of course there are other soccer blogs, but these bloggers not only write well, they write regularly and attract interesting comments.
  • It’s not just about the rise of the bottom up. Some lucky cable subscribers are getting very cool new services, such as commentary in different languages to three or four different viewing perspectives. Sadly where I live we don’t get any of these, but I’ve heard they rock. These are good services to provide and it’s great to see some imaginative providers offering them. Soccer coverage has usually been woeful: Not enough long view of the pitch, so the viewer has no real sense of who is where on the pitch, while commentators offer very little extra value. Time to change.
  • Some widgets have made following the World Cup action easier, although they are still somewhat primitive.

I’m sure there are lots of non media bloggers out there, but the mainstream media seems to be finally getting it, and the World Cup is a perfect place and topic to do it. Everyone’s an expert in soccer, and no one is shy about offering an opinion. In some ways it’s a great leveler and a great showcase for participatory journalism.

The World Cup Walls Come Down

The more I see and read about the “sponsorship” behind the World Cup the more appalled I am. Ever since I heard that MasterCard (briefly) exerted a monopoly over buying tickets to the finals with a credit card, and men were told to take off their lederhosen, I realised that although it claims to, sponsorship never works to the benefit of the end user. But until I read this post from the excellent Paul Mason of BBC Newsnight, I hadn’t really linked what was happening to my supposed field of interest, the Internet and new media:

This, therefore is turning out to be the first “user-generated-content” global sports event. Much of the content is pretty scrappy but it shows the potential of the medium and how hard it’s going to be for Sepp Blatter and co to defend their intellectual property (image rights for individual players, no Visacards allowed etc).

Up to now football has managed to ride the big business waves of the 1990s: paid-for content, pay-TV, below the line advertising budgets and sponsorship. How will it cope with a world where all intellectual property rights are under threat? Right now the monopoly on images is easy to defend but the monopoly on sound commentary is effectively broken because you can see numerous people in the crowd giving commentaries to their mates live.

(If you’re an England fan you’ve got to read his other post about what the manager should do, a post that has attracted, at the time of writing. more than 120 comments. Last night when I looked it had about 20.)

Going back to his intellectual property post, it’s a good point. From folk taking video of their TV to others at the game shooting the scene with their camera phone, it’s going to be impossible to ring-fence what is and isn’t seen or heard in the future. (It doesn’t mean they didn’t try.) This isn’t as clear cut as Napster file sharing, where original digital content is copied and shared. It’s about individuals mashing up what they see and heard with their own creativity. It’ll be interesting match to watch, as an increasingly sophisticated (and avaricious) marketing industry faces off against the user-generated anarchy/cooperatives of shared content.

Watching the World Cup on a Widget

Opera 9 is officially out today, so perhaps now is as good a time as any to offer some FIFA World Cup 2006 plugins:

For Firefox there’s

  • FootieFox, which has actually been around for a year or so. Nice and small, it displays any soccer scores (not just those of the World Cup) in your status bar, and even gives visual and acoustic notification when goals are scored. It also provides a customisable skin, according to your team of preference. Kick-off times in local time, world cup teams in local language:
    Footie1
  • Joga – a slightly fancier offering from Google and Nikefootball, Joga is community of soccer players dedicated to keep the game beautiful. It offers a sidebar that provides updated scores, as well as videos and “communities”:
    Joga1

Both expect you to know your country flags, which is probably no bad thing. (FootieFox’s comparison of the two extensions is here. Certainly FootieFox seems to be lighter and faster.

For Opera there are a couple of widgets:

  • Goal 06 which gives you a desktop window with access to all the usual information, plus photos etc. Seems a bit memory and CPU hungry. There’s a Mini version of this for your smart phone (just open your WAP browser and go to: http://mini.opera.com/goal/ and follow the instructions. The Goal 06 World Cup content is available in the site Bookmarked as “World Cup 06” in the Opera Mini home page.)
  • gCalendar World Cup edition which I must confess I didn’t really understand. Information with these widgets is minimal and barely intelligible. Grumble…

For Yahoo!, there’s a special Widget as well as some more basic (or out of date) ones. For Macs there’s a World Cup schedule widget which you can also get here. Microsoft has a Soccer Scoreboard, so long as you don’t mind validating your computer first.

For Google there’s a special news page module. There’s a collection of Klips if you’re into that. (Not quite as inspiring as I’d hoped; Klips, I thought, would be tailor made for the World Cup). For your Treo there’s the Football 2006 Manager, courtesy of Palm and TinyStocks (thanks, Mark), which is very cool but could be a lot cooler.

In fact, at the risk of sounding spoilt, none of these really jumped out at me. But if you’re working and can’t watch the games live, this might be a second best. Of course, there’s always the BBC website, which remains highly popular.

Loose Wire: The State We

Loose Wire: The State We Could Be in

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 28 March 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Voting in your underwear? Sounds an appealing proposition: the chance to exercise your constitutionally protected right without actually having to leave your home. You could be watching Frasier while working out which candidate you want to mess things up for you for the next three/four/25 years, based on criteria such as which one most closely resembles a Teletubby/Frasier’s brother Niles/your Aunt Maudlin.

Yes, the lure of Internet voting is coming around again. In May, soccer enthusiasts will be able to vote for their favourite players in the World Cup via a joint South Korean and Japanese project (mvp.worldcup2002.or.kr; the site is not fully functioning yet). This is just an on-line poll, of course, and doesn’t add much to the mix except to try to introduce a new social group (soccer fans) to the concept of on-line voting. Elsewhere, however, on-line voting is already kicking in: Some towns in Britain are undertaking pilot projects allowing voters to choose their local councillors via the Internet, or even via SMS, in borough elections in May.

I don’t want to be a killjoy, but this kind of thing gives me the heebie-jeebies. The arguments in favour of on-line voting make sense — faster counting, less human error, attracting younger, hipper voters with handphones and Internet connections in their hatbands, higher turnouts, you can vote in your underpants, etc., etc. — until you actually think about it. Computers, we’ve learned since we plugged one PC into another, are notoriously insecure. Viruses are now so sophisticated and prevalent that many security consultants advise their clients to update their anti-virus software every day. What are the chances of a voting system not being a juicy target for people writing these nasty little vermin programs?

Another argument wheeled out in favour of Internet voting is this: The Web is now managing billions of dollars of transactions successfully, so why can’t it handle voting? There’s a simple answer to this, as security consultant Bruce Schneier of Counterpane Internet Security (www.counterpane.com) explains: The whole point of voting is that it’s supposed to be anonymous, whereas any financial transaction has attached to it details of payee, recipient and other important data. This makes it much, much harder to protect any voting system from fraud, much harder to detect any fraud and much harder to identify the guy conducting the fraud. What’s more, if there was evidence of fraud, what exactly do you do in an on-line vote? Revote? Reconduct part of the vote? Chances are that faith in the overall ballot has been seriously, if not fatally, undermined.

Some of these problems could be done away with via ATM-style machines that print out a record of the vote. That could then be used in any recount. But it’s still not enough: As on-line voting expert Rebecca Mercuri points out, there is no fully electronic system that can allow the voter to verify that the ballot cast exactly matches the vote he just made. Some nasty person could write code that makes the vote on the screen of a computer or ATM-machine printout different from that recorded. This may all sound slightly wacky to people living in fully functioning democracies. But (political point coming up, cover your eyes if you prefer) democracies can be bent to politicians’ wills, and one country’s voting system may be more robust than another’s.

Scary stuff. Florida may seem a long way away now, but the lesson from that particular episode must be that any kind of voting system that isn’t simple and confidence-inspiring gives everyone stomach ulcers. The charming notion that the more automation you allow into a system, the more error-free and tamper-proof it becomes, is deeply misguided. The more electronics and automation you allow into the system, the less of a role election monitors can play.

Internet voting, or something like it, may well be the future. I’d like to see it wheeled out for less mission-critical issues, like polling for whether to introduce traffic-calming measures in the town centre, or compulsory kneecapping for spitters, say. But so long as computers remain fragile, untamed beasts that we don’t quite understand, I’d counsel against subjecting democracy to their whim. Even if I am in my underpants.