Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Should Internet Content Be Free?

This month's issue of Wired magazine contains two very different views on this issue. One is the perspective of Rupert Murdoch who has recently started charging for content from the Wall Street Journal. It is business model in which some access can be obtained free but anyone who wants regular and comprehensive access to the site has to pay a subscription. This approach has some merits and seems to be working to an extent. However, the high end users of this web site are not typical of the wider constituency of internet of even newspaper readers. Murdoch reckons that the era of free online content is at an end because online advertizing revenue alone will not replace the income lost from the declining print versions. Murdoch is certainly right about this but this does not mean that that the internet is going to change to accomodate the needs of News Corp to continue to maintain its existing income levels.
Chris Anderson, in the same issue argues for a radically new business model to replace the old one. His arguments (taken from his new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price), suggest that traditional business models are not sustainable in this era. People are used to getting internet content free and production costs are now so low and piracy is now so rampant that anything which can be provided digitally is, or will soon be free. He argues that rather than trying to beat piracy, we should see pirates as just another marketing tool for our product. He argues, for example, that bootleg Gucci bags simply stimulate demand for real ones and that bootleg downloads expose a band to a greater number of people and ultimately sell more concert tickets.
Piracy, is not the only internet based threat to traditional business models, however. The other threat is generation of content. The tools of making videos, animations, etc - which would at one time have been restricted to those with a film studio are now available to anyone with a camcorder and a computer. Distribution and marketing are also free to anyone with a web site. Many people get much of their news and opinions from Blogs. An obvious retort to this is that the average blogger does not have the large resources or expertise of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. However, this perspective ignores the fact that much of the content of newspapers and tv news does not come from its own reporters. Much of it comes from news agencies, some consists of thinly disguised press release material and the opinion pieces are often little better than blogs. In terms of 'on the scene' reporting, more and more of this is being done by members of the public through Twitter and their camcorders. This trend is supported by the news media through intitives such as CNNs i-report. Increasingly news reporting is an interactive experience rather than a top down one. Sure, there is still a need for good investigative journalism but what is possibly not needed is the juggernaut publishing system and its old fashioned business models. Innovations such as i-report and the use of Twitter on CNN show a savvy approach to changes in the way news is produced and consumed
The internet is radically and forever changing not only the relationships between producers and consumers but also the roles. Consumers are generating content and writers and artists can interact directly with their audiences. The only part of the chain which no longer has a clear role is the traditional distribution networks. Much as Rupert Murdoch might want to turn back the clock and put the internet genie back in the bottle it is not going to happen.
The whole face of commerce and the buying and selling of resources, skills and labour is changing forever.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Schizophrenia and manic depression
This article in today's Independent (based on recent articles in Nature) claims that schizophrenia and manic depression have a common genetic basis. This discovery is, they claim, "at odds with the orthodoxy in psychiatry stating that the two conditions are clinically distinct". It will not, however, come as a surprise to many people who have experience of working with mental health problems, students on my mental health module. Enlightened practitioners have come to realize that such terms do not necessarily have any direct link to dictinct pathologies and are in fact just ways of categorizing groups of symptoms. Some patients are given more than one diagnostic category at different times and this can be very confusing for them. It is much safer to say that someone who has symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations is suffering from a psychosis. The article also points to the involvement of areas of the genome associated with the immune system and this would help to explain the variations in succeptibility associated with the time of year someone is born. Links have also been found with genes involved in growth of nerve cells and production of neurotransmitters.
The work is based on analysis of gerntic material from 15,000 pateints and 50,000 'healthy' subjects.
The study points to a common vulnerability to the two conditions but does not explain why people develop one condition or the other. It also supports the stress vulnerability model as inheritance is only claimed to account for 80% of the risk.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Statutory Regulation

Today - psychology comes under the regulatory auspices of the Health Professions Council. In some ways this does not affect me directly at present because I don't fit in to any of the categories which have become protected titles. It also creates a bit of an anomoly as I fit the criteria to be registered as a qualified social worker because of my past work and qualification with his body. The counselling profession is going to be professionally regulated in 2 years time. This has created a fair amount of controversy and indeed this process is likely to be a lot more 'messy' than some other types of professional regulation. Regulation seems to be working well for social work. However, this is a very clearly defined profession with existing statutory duties. Social workers have been traditionally employed by local authorities who are public bodies with very clear lines of responsibility and training has been provided for some time by publicly funded Universities. In addition to this training had been standardized and regulated for several decades.
Training in counselling, on the other hand has been provided by a diverse range of bodies, many of them private. There is a great variety of models and approaches. Many counsellors work in private practice and they do not have any statutory duties.
Part of the problem with the regulation controversy is that several different objectives are being conflated. The most obvious one is the need to protect the public from unethical, untrained or unscrupulous practioners. An article in today's Guardian recounts a story about a woman who was a victim of sexual misconduct by a counselling practioner. Certainly, the public need to be protected from such misconduct. However, statutory regulation is likely to encompass other issues such as standards of training, approaches to practice, monitoring of standards etc. Many of these issues cannot be tackled without significantly changing the face of the profession and its relationship with its clientel. Much of the attraction which private therapy hold for clients is the fact that is holistic, private, highly confidential and outwith the mainstream. For practitioners, the freedom to choose a model and develop their own highly individual stykle of working is a huge attraction in a field which does not offer many opportunities for high earnings or career development.
This is an issue which is likely to generate a very strong and lively debate over the next few years. Lets hope that whatever happens with regulation it arises out of a debate which hears all sides.