Tag Archives: culturechange

What *does* a Community Manager Actually Do?

Ben Whitelaw, Communities Editor at The Times, explains how he explains his role to his colleagues in this well written and very well thought out article. The interesting thing is how he appraoches different people in different roles in a different way. Ultimately it’s all about education.

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Do not underestimate the cultural change associated with social media

We love social workspaces, well we would do wouldnt we? After all we do make them. Here’s handy guide to things to consider, how to kick the project off and, most importantly, the cultural change associated with rolling them out to the workforce.

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Tithing, an update and some perspectives on ‘doing good stuff’

Back in March I wrote a short blog post about the direction I was looking to take Totaal in as a company. In it I spoke about crowd-sourcing an ethical policy and the concept I called “tithing” where I give 10% of my time, roughly equating to half a day a week, to doing things for free with people who needed help but couldn’t afford to pay.

Since that post things have moved on considerably and I felt I’d revisit the concept and update regular readers on the progress of what I then thought would be a nice little initiative but has since turned into a slightly bigger one.


The first thing to mention is that off of the back of this post I began to run the Bradford Social Media Surgeries which have been a really interesting side project. We’ve done two so far, in July and September, and I have been lucky enough to meet some really interesting people along the way. Also, thank you to all of the people who gave their free time to come along and act as ‘surgeons’ on the day, not to mention those that were good enough to give me lots of good, not to mention free, PR for the event. Social media Surgeries are aimed specifically at Third Sector companies (Those in the Voluntary, Community, Charity and Social Enterprise sectors) and that in itself brings its own set of challenges. For instance, how do you help a women’s refuge enter into a conversation with potential service users when their whole business revolves around confidentiality? It’s certainly not a challenge you face every day in the more straightforward corporate world.


Probably the biggest project I’ve been involved with, both in terms of scale and time, has been Fire Walk With Me, a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the original – and still only – airing of Twin Peaks. Although largely inspired by the work of David Lynch the event, which took place on the 18th of September, became more of a Warholian affair, bursting at the seems with interesting films, people in costumes, live music performances. In short, it was a rather beautiful night and well worth investing some time in. It was all to raise funds for Temple Works in Leeds which is a lovely listed former mill building which is modelled on the Temple of Horus at Edfu in Egypt and has morphed, via a short period of virtual dereliction, into an arts venue like no other.

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These views are my own

myownThe title to this blog appears, in one way or another, in the bio section of an alarming amount of profiles across the social web. You may have hardly noticed it or possibly just taken it for granted but it’s very illustrative of the current state of play in the relationship between society, work and social media. The times certainly are changing in terms of how people define their selves, in the last few years it has become more acceptable to exist in a more open and consistent way and people also seem to genuinely feel that, whilst their jobs may not define what they are, what they do forms a fairly large chunk of who they are. And, in one sense at least, why shouldn’t people feel like this? They have more than likely got a decent degree in doing what they do and have probably done their time at the whims of a nightmare boss for a few years too, by any measure they have won their stripes.

One of my most popular ‘off the peg’ group sessions is around defining the boundaries between you, that is “you” the person, and the professional you. I use the “These views are my own” line as an example of how one may choose to successfully negotiate this boundary friction but, if I’m really honest, I’m not altogether too sure it does.

I guess the nub of the matter here isn’t the people whose profiles contain this disclaimer text but rather the companies that they work for and just how risk averse they are. I’m not entirely clear who would misconstrue a Tweet from somebody’s clearly personal account but, as the legal world moves at a snail’s pace, one could probably make a fairly decent case that it could constitute an official statement if your lawyers really tried. The ‘views are my own’ clause seems to protect the company more than the individual though. In the advent of a controversial status update, the company would still be able to reprimand their employee whether they had applied the disclaimer or not, and perhaps you might say rightly so too.

So what’s to gain from including this statement in a profile? My feeling is not much really, gestural insulation aside it’s still the same person associated with the same company. My own personal rule of thumb is that if you mention your employers on your profile you are signing up to the attendant risks and benefits of doing so, with or without a disclaimer you are creating that association for good or ill. If you want to be free to tweet, update or blog what you want then keep your profile brand neutral and if you want to be associated with your company then you are signing up to their code of conduct, no matter how different it is to yours. No matter how well or poorly defined your company social media strategy may be it is down to you to negotiate the risks of your actions and ultimately, as with anything else in life, it’s about taking responsibility for your own course of action.

As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Bradford’s first Social Media Surgery

bradforsmslogoNext week sees Bradford become the latest town in the UK hold a Social Media Surgery. The informal gathering of people interested in either teaching or learning how to use the web will be held at The Gumption Centre on July 20th, click here for details. Specifically aimed at community or voluntary groups, Social Media Surgeries provide free advice to organisations or people on how to set up their own websites, blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages or podcasts. As well as anything else digital that they may be interested in investigating.

In the new political landscape of budget cuts and tight financial margins organisations are coming under increasing pressure to communicate more effectively with the people who use their services. The web contains some fantastic tools to help you both stay close to the people who use your services and publicise what you do to new people. Social Media can also be a fantastic tool for campaigners looking to get publicity for their cause without having the budget to launch a traditional media campaign.

The people involved in the Bradford event are all seasoned digital communications professionals who have given their time for free and will be more than happy to pass on their knowledge of how to get started in using the Social Web. Come along to The Gumption Centre on the 20th July, 5:30pm – 8pm. Click here to book your place.

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Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the single biggest threat to the Social Web

bringdownie6Chances are that, if you know anybody involved in web development, design or usability, you will already be aware of this but I’m still amazed by how many aren’t. The biggest threat that the Social Web faces today isn’t authoritarian governments, lack of broadband availability or even piracy or hackers. This pervasive threat actually comes from the company that, more likely than not and in one way or another, you are reading this blog courtesy of.

That’s right, the single biggest threat faced today by the Social Web is – dun, dun, duunnnnnnnn – Internet Explorer 6. This isn’t a hatchet job and I’m not a hater of Micro$oft by any means which, given the fact that I own a machine running Windows Vista, surprises even me sometimes. Even Microsoft themselves would suggest you download the later versions of IE and they made the thing! So, it’s probably best then, that I explain what I mean when I say it’s the Osama Bin Laden of browsers. IE6 was first shipped in August 2001, yes that’s before most of us even knew who Bin Laden was, which by anyone’s reckoning is nearly a full eight and a half years ago. Now, I am not a neophile, my car is older than that and – I’ll be honest with you here – so are some of my clothes but just imagine how long a time that is in the world of the internet.

2001Back in 2001 you could almost name your price for any business with a domain name attached to it, almost nobody used google, we were all allowed to download anything we wanted from Napster for free and without fear of legal recourse from our ISPs and the closest thing to the Social Web were sites like FARK, Slashdot and technology like ICQ and MSN Messenger. It’s safe to say that nowdays the web is a very, very different place. So why, even now when the web has moved on immesurably, do roughly 20% of users still browse the web using IE6? I guess the short answer would be the good old fashioned combination of laziness/ignorance. It’s actually different in some Third World countries where web usage is more likely to be via mobile web where it’s actually factory shipped but lets skip over that, it’s fairly safe to say that you aren’t very likely to be reading this from Thailand. So, in an effort to spread the word, here’s why you should upgrade post-post-post-haste if you are using IE6.


Aesthetically IE6 is awful, without getting too technical, it’s not really designed to interpret web pages made in the last few years. You know all of those lovely drop shadows, rounded corners, shaded edges and layers? No? Well you must be using IE6. It doesnt even support CSS2! Good designers will factor in workarounds for sites to look passable in IE6 but even the best will sometimes spend hours cursing it, going grey and grinding their teeth. They shouldn’t be doing this though, it’s a waste of everyone’s time that they have to, good designers should be doing better designs and not enslaving theirselves to a technology that, if it were on TV would be in black and white.


i_trash_ie6_tshirt-p235178687636954278q6iv_210An interesting thing has begun to happen around the web, if you use IE6 then some sites will actually implore you to switch or upgrade your browser. Others on the other hand just plain wont work. Twitter, for instance, began doing so around the middle of last year and I virtually jumped out of my chair when they did. Youtube followed suit not long after, and much more brutally too. This isn’t sniffy high mindedness on their part though, it’s for a perfectly valid reason. A lot of the applications that now drive the Social Web actually struggle to work with IE6. Again, without getting too technical, and to use the simplest analogy to hand, it’s like running a car on unleaded petrol when it doesn’t have a catalytic converter. Sure it might work but you’ll be in for a bumpy ride and you’ll more than likely break down pretty quickly. What’s more, you’ll get where you are going terribly slowly.


If the last two didn’t get you switching then this one will. “As of January 10, 2009, security advisory site Secunia reports 142 vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer 6, 22 of which are unpatched”. Tossing aside the likely hood that, if you are still using IE6, you will more than likely have not updated your security patches for it, that is still 22 security flaws in your browser. 22 Separate ways which nasties can still infiltrate your personal data and do beastly things to all your lovely data. I just hope you don’t bank with it.

So there you have it, switch if you can. If you are in a company using ie6, which my last company were up until last year, picket the IT department, send them this link. If you know someone who uses it shun them like a leper. It’s for the good of the Social Web remember, the less time spent on catering on nearly decade old technology the quicker progress will be.

Bin IE666 people, you know it makes sense.

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Future of Web Apps highlights (#fowa)

signIt’s official, Carsonified‘s excellent Future of Web Apps conference in London chewed me up, spat me out and landed me back in sunny Yorkshire. I’ve had a ball over the three days catching up with some friends and generally talking tech stuff with tech people. Really the only apt way to describe it would be would be “awesome”, which of course  is pronounced “ah-sum”. I was my first time at FOWA, I was desparate to go last year but underestimated the pull of the event and it got sold out from under me. This was of course made worse over the following few weeks as I heard and read so may good things about it. I was massively excited to see what all the fuss is about at 09, so much so that I enrolled in the workshops the day before. There is though, a rather finite amount you can contribute to workshops if you have been on a train since 6am in the morning. I was also planning to do a little live blogging experiment but had a few technical issues, namely the charger being 200 miles away. So yeah, sorry about that too.

Slightly ironically for a web-centric conference though, the wi-fi was a real issue. Ryan Carson promised us “Weapons Grade wi-fi” but sadly I could barely get a connection, either on wi-fi or my iPhone, for the whole two days. There were also some grumbles from those who had been before who objected to the slightly heavy-handed presence of some of the title sponsors Microsoft, Vodafone, Sun and Paypal. It was a great conference though and rather than go through speaker by speaker, theme by theme, I thought I’d just quickly run through some of the highlights for you all.

Francisco Tomalsky, 280North

Introducing Atlas: A Visual Development Tool for creating Web Applications

280North are a fantastic company formed by Francisco Tomalsky and two college friends, all of whome were former employees of Apple and worked on iTunes and iPhone development. You may know 280North’s work, they are the guys responsible for Cappucino, an open source application development framework for developing web applications that look and feel like desktop applications and 280Slides, the presentation software that works in your browser.

Probably one of the stars of the whole show, Tomaskly gave a simultaneous talk and live demo of Atlas, another wonderful Cappuchino tool which makes creating web apps an absolute doddle. Without going into too much detail or giving too much away, if you can resize boxes then you will be able to create web apps in Atlas. The presentation was so well received that they called him back the next day to show everyone more of what Atlas can do.

Bruce Lawson, Opera

The Future of HTML 5bruce

Bruce is a big personality and has a passion for the internet and within seconds of him taking the stage he lets you know it. This was probably the most eagerly anticipated talk of the whole two days with many people staying glued to the good seats through the afternoon interval.

Bruce’s style borders on that of one of my favourite all time comedians, Mark Thomas, and whilst peppered with jokes and witty asides the stuff that he talked us through was pretty mouth watering. HTML 5’s dynamic graphics capabilities alone were worthy of an entire lecture and the demo of the new feature “canvas” took the form of a first person shooter game (ala Quake, Doom, Wolfenstein etc) which impressed the audience. Bruce, claiming claiming he was “not of a militaristic bent” decided to rejig this and instead showed the audience a first person flower giving game instead.  The bad news about canvas is that it isnt yet accessable (for the visually/hearing impared, that is) but it can be worked around if you use .svg graphic formats as the text is still treated as text.

We were told that we should “think of HTML 5 as a broad form, rather like AJAX” rather than like anything that went before. There’s tons and tons of other very cool stuff that HTML5 can do as standard, multiple file uploads, local and session cookie storage, and a wonderful facility to embed (and thus tinker with) video right in the browser window. There will also be no more calling in of javascript libraries to validate forms as they will be automatically validated in 5 and there are also all sorts of nice things like calendar widgets which should make your designer and developer’s lives a lot easier.  Very exciting indeed.

Aza Raskin, Mozilla

How people will use the web in the future

azaMozilla are great, firefox is great, all of the add ons are great and rather unsurpisingly Aza’s presentation was great. Rather than talk about specific technology he chose instead to look into the future to see what we should be expecting from our browsing experience. Aza asked us to think of the browser “as a broker of trust, as an insanely smart butler”.

He also intruduced us to Ubiquity, probably the most forward thinking add-on available which acts on an intuitive command system based on wants and requests, Aza took us through the many steps that we go through to do what in reality are small, simple tasks online. Ubiquity is an impressive concept, far too esoteric to describe with any brevity, and Aza probably summed it up best by saying “with google you type what you want to fine, with Ubiquity you type what you want to do”.

Ed Anuff & Mike Malone, Six Apart.

The Future of Social Web Apps

Ed and Mike from Six Apart, the company that brought you Barack Obama’s MyBo social tool, took us through some of the developments around Motion, their new tool for the Movable Type platform and Typepad. Motion promises microblogging features which replicate Pownce, Tumblr or Twitter. Activity streams like FriendFeed and really easy OpenID sign in support for commenters, including both Google Accounts and Facebook Connect. I also attended the product pitch on this and it’s a really great tool that I’ll be fiddling with in the future.

Bonus video section:

Kevin Rose, Digg

How to get your site from 1 to 1,000,000,000 users

Cnet review of FOWA

photoAnyway, so with my melon twisted and my mind rammed full of the knowledge of those much smarter than me I headed off into the night and back up north to Yorkshire. But first there was one little thing that I had to settle before I could jump on the train, my little girl had asked me – perfectly reasonably for a two year old I suppose – for a pink dinosaur. The only place I could think of that would even possibly have a pink dinosaur would be the Natural History Museum. I was in luck, one pink dinosaur under my arm it was back off to Kings Cross and the train north.

Thanks to the guys at Carsonified for a great few days.

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So you’re thinking of having a Social Media Newsroom?

There’s no doubt that nowadays Public Relations is getting exponentially harder, Social Media has opened up a new front in the world of PR and people are now joining the industry with a whole different skill set to those who have traditionally been drawn to the dark arts of mass relationship and media management. Personally I think this is a good thing (well I would wouldnt I?), bad PR and bad PR Proffessionals have had it far too easy for far too long. Much like its stablemate advertising, PR is all about aspiration. In this case it’s about the client’s aspiration for the reputation of their company or brand.  It is undoubtedly one of those games where clients can often be intimidated by a wise talking, sharp suited and well groomed individual that they have paid handsomely to entrust with the reputation of the company who ultimately put food on the table of their families. That intimidation can lead to a reluctance to challenge the results of a campaign.

fry_absolutepowerI have been involved in campaigns – and heard stories of ones – where the Corporate Communications or the PR Consultant blame their clients for the failings of the campaign, the standard excuses generally tend to be around people “going off brief” or legacy issues like “irredeemably damaged” brands. These issues should have been tackled, and strategies made for mitigating the issues, when the response to the initial brief was being developed. If they weren’t identified or tackled at that point then you both really are – to use a tired old cliche – preparing to fail by failing to prepare.These excuses were easy to trot out once upon a time but they are thankfully now becoming harder to make. The advent of Social Media has made it harder to trot out these standard get out clause lines now most campaigns have more of a social focus and the hub of any Social Media PR campaign is the Social Media Newsroom. As we’re constantly being told now, Social Media is moving the  goalposts of how campaigns now work and a good Social Media Newsroom will provide you with a map and compass as well as a yardstick for your campaigns.

So what exactly is a Social Media Newsroom? Well, the newsroom is a bringing together of several elements that already (should) exist disparately into one place on a corporate website. SM newsrooms do an important job of representing the breadth of a modern corporate presence, they bring together the old style Media Room (Press Releases, or in this case Social Media News Releases, contact details for key Press & PR contacts) with multimedia content like viral videos, pod/vodcasts and slideshare or prezi presentations. They also provide crucial Social Media service signposting information for corporate and professional Twitter, Friendfeed, Digg, Delicious services.

Rather than just ‘frontending’ everything your company does though, the Social Media Newsroom should act as the springboard for your measurement of a story, item of content or campaign. Everything in your SN Newsroom should be monitored as much as practically possible. The content you are putting out there needs to be tracked and monitored for responses. You need to know where each item is going, what it is doing and what people are saying about it and there are great services available in today’s marketplace which allow you to see the reach of your content and gauge the respponses to it. If items receive negative feedback then that needs to be tackled, blogs panning your product need to be replied to and – if the feedback is serious enough to warrant it and budget allows it – changes to that content need to be made.

So what do they actually do? In contrast to old school Press Office/Media Centre areas of sites Social Media Newsrooms provide a more immersive and immediate experience for Press and PR contacts looking for information on a company, project or individual. They also allow a more iterative, longer lasting relationship with these key contacts – who are effectively key markets for corporate Press and PR staff -allowing a more personal, fertile relationship to start both on and off line. That said, SN Newsrooms don’t just serve a specific, media focussed niche but also work perfectly for the Social Media literate customer/client allowing them to sign up and receive information much in the same way as a journalist would.

The Social Media literate customer can be just as important as the journalist – in some cases more so – as they will be very likely to share news, content or new product information with their peers via reTweets, blog posts or Social Bookmarking Services thus boosting the Word of Mouth Marketing credentials of the company. It’s therefore very important to manage this relationship, these people will in all likelihood be promoting your company brand far beyond what can be achieved with normal press relationships. If you treat these people right, as we’ve seen with Apple, they can be the best evangelists for your product or service money (or rather no money, save your investment in a Social Media Newsroom) can buy. By the same token though, these “envangelists”can be the biggest threat to your brand image so, rather than treat them just like you would a journalist, they require their own strategy for cultivation. Keep them happy, keep them fed and above all keep them engaged. Listen to them, reply to them when they query you and above all make them feel special.


GM Europe’s Social Media Newsroom:

Pretty much a case study in how a Social Media Newsroom should be, this nicely laid out SMNR agregates feeds, shows tags, signposts useful GM blogs and even feeds recent comments.

SHIFT Communications Social Media Newsroom:

Probably the grandaddy of them all when it comes to Social Media PR, SHIFT pretty much pioneered the idea of the SMNR. I was lucky enough to see a presentation by these guys a couple of years back and I’ve been amazed by how influential their thinking has been as I’ve been hearing it parroted back to me ever since.

First Direct Social Media Newsroom:

Banks generally get a lot of bad press and they dont help theirselves in perpeuating the stuffy image, apart from First Direct the only person who is trying to counter this image is Cristophe Langolis, former Social Evangelist at Lloyds TSB and author of the Visible Banking blog. First Direct are pretty much leading the vanguard action in changing this and can lay claim to the title of the UK’s only Social Bank.

Fathom SEO Social Media Newsroom:

Fathom are an ethical SEO and internet marketing company and they live the ethics right through to their Social Media News Room. They are so ‘right on’ in terms of being open and social they even provide you with a free WordPress theme for you to have your own SMNR. Beautiful.

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Twitter style ads help Facebook buck the market trend

facebook-adsFacebook’s recent buzz has all been about their “Twittification”, reducing the former enjoyable randomness of Facebook to a homogenous Twitter feed. It’s caused all sorts of ructions and mutinies among users with the predictable Facebook groups being set up to demand that the system be scrapped and the norm returned to.

Haha Facebook, now you know people who dont like Wispas feel.

Anyway, under the radar of the awful publicity and frantic petitioning Facebook have been making some very shrewd, very quiet changes to the way it works. I have, for some time now, been telling anyone who will listen (and some that wont) that the value of Facebook’s targeting information is worth it’s weight in gold and that they havent even began to exploit it. It now looks like they have began to actually realise what the potential of the data they hold and they have chosen just about the right time to do it. Online advertising spend is conservatively predicted to fall by around 10% in 2009 and Google has just recorded its first sequential quarterly drop in sales since 2004. Even that’s great when you compare it in the virtual collapse of traditional media ad spend which has tanked and is in the process of taking many a newspaper and TV station with it.

So in the face of all of that what of Facebook’s revenues then? Well, as I said above, theyhave historically been awful at making money so it’s from a fairly low basemark. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO says that their ad revenues “may climb 70 percent this year”. Simply amazing, doubly so in 2009, so how are they doing this?

Firstly there’s the ads which have up to “25 characters in the title and as many as 135 characters in the body of the text”, sound familiar? Yes, it’s Twitter. OK, theres an optional photo but that’s what it is, but while Facebook had egg on its face when it last aped Twitter it seems this time it has paid off. Tim Kendall, Facebook’s director of product marketing for monetization (ouch, nice title Tim) says the service lets companies target users based on the information they put on their profiles “You basically just have a greater diversity of people using our ad system — lots of businesses, lots of local businesses finding success. It’s really been a steady, successful growth pattern.”

They have also been *ahem* heavily influenced by Google’s adwords system with their new campaign configuration interface. Feedback for this has been pretty patchy and that’s being kind, but as someone who used early incarnations of the AdWords system I can attest to the fact that it has improved immeasurably over time.

They have also, for the first time, emplyed a real, human Sales Team to assist companies with more interactive promotions, rather gloriously called “Engagement Ads.” They can include features such as video and let users do things like become “fans” of a brand. Add that to the fact that that it has 200 million active users and is still growing rapidly, especially among baby boomers, then Facebook’s outlook is pretty rosy.

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Lee Bryant kicks off Reboot Britain with considerable aplomb

leebryantNESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) are a pretty interesting organisation, they are a sort of Royal Society of the Arts for the digital age cum tech-think-tank, they work across all sectors promoting innovation. It’s a partnership body which, as I can identify from with in my time at Yorkshire Culture, isnt necessarily the easiest place in the world to be so kudos to them for being such a great bunch.  Their new initiative, Reboot Britain, is designed to examine the role that digital technology – and all the varied forms it takes – can be better utilised by the Public Sector, the state, the man (or whatever you want to call it) to engage more people in more effective democracy. This, anyone but the biggest fool would have to admit, is a pretty worthy initiative.

To launch Reboot Britain NESTA are publishing 10 viewpoints compiled by a series of distinguished contributors and edited by the economist and writer, Diane Coyle. First to kick this thought piece decathalon off was Lee Bryant, co-founder of Headshift and all round very tall person, with a very well reasoned and thought through article here.

The article lays out some pretty classy ideas around how government can better spend it’s money advocating greater openess by sharing all data (bar the obvious commercially confidential stuff), conducting more policy in an open, iterative way and investing in smaller companies on an investment basis rather than going down the old ‘top four consultant reccomends massive IT contractor’ route which usually succeeds in creating nothing but content for Private Eye.

Working, as I have for the last five years, in the Public Sector and being of the bent that I am I find it hard to disagree with much of what he says. It’s pretty obvious that, just as in the constitutional government, changes are sorely needed to the way we work. The irony of it all is that – right now – there is little that anyone in the Public Sector can do about it. It may sound as if I am being apologetic for the sector’s failings and I’d like to be clear that I am not, the basic fact of the matter is that I have to work at home to post to a website, if I want to manipulate an image I cant at work, hell even if I want to research some potential Social Media application I am blocked from doing so. Either through a firewall that interprets the word “Social” as something akin to “Porn” or by a system so antquated it still runs IE6 (with no plug ins).

This would be the first baby step on the road to change, Lee’s article proposes some pretty radical things but they really need to happen.

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