IRONING OUT CREASES

Fourth Portal

Week 4 (of 6) at the Fourth Portal Great Yarmouth popup. These weeks are to iron out the wrinkles in the business plan and to reconnect with suppliers and the broader P7 network. Things are going well, and most importantly, it’s fun!


Welcome Drinks Invite | Thursday, 8 Sept 2022 from 6pm

We are on week 4 (of 6) at the Fourth Portal set-up stage. It is going as much as I was expecting. Some things are going smoother than anticipated, in other areas we have encountered challenges. We have nothing bad to report. In fact, it has – mostly – been fun. We are attracting attention and already have some cheerleaders. Our coffee is roasted in HMP Mount prison. It is going down very well and bringing people back. It looks likely we will have a really cool pizza popup from week 6 outside. Yet another business working with released prisoners.

Our attention this week shifted back to the hybrid Liftpod. The concept is challenging but also hugely enjoyable. I am annoying Lauren, my long-suffering occasional colleague who has to endure me each day! This week I am being deliberately too vague on what hardware we should use in the Liftpod 🙂 🙂 :). John and Val, developers of the Flatlands part of the LiftPod, are a real giggle to work with. Lauren is close to having the local network (our own internal Google drive) up and running. Once done we can then pick up the chat about the next stage of our internal network with guru James Stevens. A large chunk of the prep work for our provenance Annalist system is complete. Now Graham, the developer of Annalist, is back from holiday we will continue with stage one.

New artworks

On Thursday, Peter Rodulfo brought his first painting of Stonecutters Way to the Fourth Portal. The artwork juxtaposes nicely with Kev Gavaghan’s work in the Mind Room next door. Local artist Lisa came in with some work to show us. We liked it and plan to display it soon.

Moonbow Margate 2011 Feel

There is a Margate 2011 feel developing. I can sense the slow build-up of positive energy. The Fourth Portal is inspiring confidence in locals. Already some are taking the plunge to ask to become involved.

Several couples from the Roma community have been popping by to try and buy a particular chandelier. I have resisted selling for two reasons. 1) the offers are too low and 2) it is a real attractor. The chandelier is forming relationships. Whereas at the beginning of this popup there were stern faces, now we receive big smiles and hellos. Despite language barriers, a sense of fun is building around who will manage to buy the light – if anyone!

There’s a different atmosphere in GY from the previous time I sought to open Fourth Portal. I cannot nail what it is, all I know is it is just a different feel. Maybe the unfolding economic crisis is focusing minds on what is important. Maybe it’s just because it is sunny and lovely weather this summer. No doubt we will find out soon enough.

Fancy some Prosecco?

If you fancy a glass of Prosecco on Thursday 8th September 2022, after 6pm then come down to the Fourth Portal at 2 Stonecutters Way, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, HR30 1HF. You’ll receive a warm welcome.

More soon, John M

THE SEMANTIC WEB

The Semantic Web is an extension of the World Wide Web (www). Whereas the www has been built for humans to read, the Semantic Web is for machines to read. The Semantic Web works by using Linked Data. The Fourth Portal will introduce Linked Data concepts to encourage members, clients and suppliers to consider how the Semantic Web could apply to their work.

The Fourth Portal is a new kind of hybrid cafe-bar work and meeting space that introduces the opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The locations will have several innovative tools that visitors and members can access. One such tool will be Annalist, developed by computer engineer Graham Klyne. Annalist will be used to introduce Linked Data, and the potential it offers.


Annalist

Annalist is a software system for individuals and small groups to reap the benefits of using Linked Data. It presents a flexible web interface for creating, editing and browsing different types of data without requiring the user to understand computer jargon or perform any computer programming. It has been particularly effective in exploring and rapid prototyping designs for linked data on the web, covering science and humanities research, creative art and personal information.

For Fourth Portal, we will experiment with Annalist using different approaches. Experiments will include developing a stock provenance system and providing information on famous inventors and social and business innovators.

What is Linked Data?

The text below is the words of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, written in 2007. It provides a simple introduction to what the Semantic Web is and how it works. Descriptions of the abbreviation with a link to more information are included for ease of reading. Press the link for the full text: https://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/LinkedData.html

___

Linked Data by Tim Berners-Lee

‘The Semantic Web isn’t just about putting data on the web. It is about making links, so that a person or machine can explore the web of data. With linked data, when you have some of it, you can find other, related, data.

Like the web of hypertext, the web of data is constructed with documents on the web. However, unlike the web of hypertext, where links are relationships anchors in hypertext documents written in HTML, for data they links between arbitrary things described by RDF (Resource Description Framework). The URIs (Universal Resource Identifier) identify any kind of object or concept. But for HTML or RDF, the same expectations apply to make the web grow:

Use URIs as names for things

Use HTTP URIs so that people can look up those names.

When someone looks up a URI, provide useful information, using the standards (RDF*, SPARQL)

Include links to other URIs. so that they can discover more things.

Unexpected results

I’ll refer to the steps above as rules, but they are expectations of behavior.  Breaking them does not destroy anything, but misses an opportunity to make  data interconnected.  This in turn limits the ways it can later be reused in unexpected ways.  It is the unexpected re-use of information which is the value added by the web.

[Read more on the 4 steps here]

Conclusion

Linked data is essential to actually connect the semantic web. It is quite easy to do with a little thought, and becomes second nature. Various common sense considerations determine when to make a link and when not to.

The Tabulator client (running in a suitable browser) allows you to browse linked data using the above conventions, and can be used to check that your linked data works.’

___ End of article – Read more here ___

Try Annalist

Annalist is open source and is available to try at the Fourth Portal. Read more Tim Berners-Lee vision here.

John M

PAPER-MILLS IN NORFOLK

Paper making and the printing press have been critical innovations throughout modern human evolution. Paper and printing will form an important aspect of the Fourth Portal.


The following blog post is on Norfolk Paper Mills, by Joe Mason, from 2016, following the industrial paper making process in Norfolk.

There is once again a paper-mill in Norfolk, over sixty years after the last of the old mills closed. This new mill belongs to the German firm Palm Paper, and is a huge facility just to the south of Kings Lynn on the Great Ouse river. It produces 450,000 tonnes of newsprint a year, and it is one of the largest paper-mills in the world. This is a far cry from the first paper-mill in Norfolk which opened not many miles away from Kings Lynn in 1695. This was converted from a fulling mill (for the treatment of woollen cloth) in Castle Rising. This was known as the Upper Mill to distinguish it from another one further downstream on the Babingley river. There are records of five mills (including wind-mills) in Castle Rising, although not all were working at the same time. There was no printing industry in Norfolk until the early 18th century and although a certain amount of writing paper was required this first mill probably made paper used in pressing cloth or wrapping paper.

The next paper-mill in Norfolk was also converted from a fulling mill – a popular choice as the water powered hammers used to beat the cloth could easily be converted to making pulp for paper. This was in Taverham, a small village on the river Wensum about five miles outside Norwich. It opened in 1701. From the first it advertised itself as making ‘paper suitable for printing’ although there was then no printer to make use of it. Lacking this essential industry, Norwich was obviously keen to attract a printer, and this they soon did in the person of a young craftsman from London called Francis Burges. The capital in London and the two university towns of Oxford and Cambridge were the only places where printing had been allowed until 1695, when Parliament refused to renew the Licensing Act which controlled printing. Bristol had been quicker off the mark than Norwich in setting up a printing office, but the City was not far behind, and it was Norwich that produced the first newspaper outside London.

Continue reading…

PAPER-MILLS IN NORFOLK

TOWN SQUARE

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring many challenges. As the world goes virtual, the role of public gathering places will need addressing. The Town Square must again become the centre of local discourse. If not, the 4IR may become known as the Period of Polarisation.


From Wikipedia

“A town square (or square, plaza, public square, city square, urban square, or piazza) is an open public space[1] commonly found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings. Related concepts are the civic center, the market square and the village green.”

Piazza della Signoria, in Florence, Italy, a historic example of a traditional public square

Announcement of the establishment of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on Congress Square in 1918

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_square


Warning

Town squares will become contested during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Technology will permeate every part of daily life. As it does, the need for physical gathering places will rise. The risk is that such public spaces become battlegrounds.

Urban planners need to pay close attention, particularly in England. The virtual world is changing behaviours. These changes are spilling out into the real-world streets. [1]

Class system

Since the Edwardian period, England has neglected public spaces. Public squares that encourage the mixing of cultures are rare. The Georgians began the trend to fence off public spaces and streets. The policy was steeped in the British class system. In recent years, the privatisation of public space has accelerated.

Sample of English public spaces


In Southern continental Europe, the opposite is the case. Town squares are the centre of the entire community. The design, construction and purpose are all geared towards civic pride and participation.

Sample of Spanish public spaces


Spanish Squares

In Spain, all urban planning revolves around public space. There are plenty of elaborate squares and boulevards to be happened upon. Most though are of simple design and materials. They work for all occasions. Organised events, family gatherings, meeting friends or eating a sandwich. Finding a public space with a fence or a locked gate will be a challenge in Spain.

Some squares have a cafe or restaurant bordering the parameter; many don’t. It is unusual to see a cafe in the middle of a town square. Modern Spanish libraries and museums spill out onto public squares. Public spaces in Spain are welcoming and well used because of their simplicity. [2]

Comparison

The two photo galleries above show the public realm where people live. These are not tourist areas or places of commerce. Public spaces are there, in theory, for the local community and visitors to use and enjoy. The public realm in Spain sits at the very heart of a community. Unless there is a commercial reason, public space in England is a low priority.

Metaphor

Town Squares can be a metaphor for what is happening in the virtual world. Some people wish to see them controlled with restrictions on who has access. Others want them completely open, freeing and welcoming to all. [3] [4] [5]

Demonstration

Recent history has demonstrated how the virtual world can spill out into the real world.

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, is the most prominent example. Protests in 2013 began online, discussing government corruption and policies. WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts began to grow and to spread. Soon these virtual spaces were not enough. People had to come together. Tens of hundreds of thousands of people started filling Tahrir square. Night after night protests continued until Egypt’s President Mubarak toppled.

Similar scenes with different results played out across the Arab world. These 2013 protests became known as the Arab Spring.

Although not on the same scale, most areas of the developed world have seen similar protests. The rise of the online protest hashtag has been instrumental. #MeToo and #blm (#blacklivesmatter) are the most successful to date.

Brexit

Britain’s exit from the European Union was a direct result of online campaigning. What followed has been years of disruption, strife and polarisation. The struggle between the Leave and Remain camps manifested physically in London’s Parliament square. The argument has continued right up to the present day. [6]

Brexit supporter carrying Great Britain cardboard cutout, Parliament Square.

Rise of technology

As life moves further online, the need for real-world gathering forums will increase. Failure of authorities to not plan for this change could lead to dire consequences.

Reasons for people to engage within the physical world has been declining since the 1990s.

The internet changed the world of work, allowing employees to be more distributed. The onset of the pandemic brought a further scattering of the workforce as people work from home. Retail has been shifting steadily online. Restaurant food can now be delivered directly to the family dining table. The world of supermarkets without cashiers is upon us. Online gaming transformed from a table gathering to global competitions. The gaming industry now dwarfs, by revenue, the movie and music industries combined. [7]

There are plenty of Apps that anyone can access for free. However, to receive the full benefit requires buying a subscription. Public squares in England surrounded by cafes and shops are similar. To fully partake in the space requires a certain amount of purchasing power.

Two-tier England

English Extremes

Above photos from the Argent development, Kings Cross, London (2020). Below, public squares managed by Great Yarmouth borough council (2021).


In Spain, public squares are places where people congregate, play and celebrate. The public realm encourages the community to come together for serendipitous moments. Spending power is not relevant except in the most exclusive of shopping areas.

Public forum, with permanent outdoor screen, multilevel seating, no barriers. Eivissa, Ibiza, Spain, 2022. [4]


In England, the opposite is too often the case. There is heavy reliance on the private sector to create public amenity spaces. It is another aspect of Britain’s two-tier society. Money buys access.

Fenced public spaces, ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs and other rules are commonplace around England.


Bridge-building 

Public space needs to become the bridge between the virtual and physical worlds. Some may believe this is about introducing VR – virtual reality. VR will soon be playing a much larger role, but this is more about the physical spaces themselves.

The layout, ambience and purpose of the public domain in England should be along Spanish lines.

Free to access town squares must have 5G connectivity. Multipurpose seating and tables that encourage gatherings, games, meetings and work. Architectural flair can overcome issues around Britain’s inclement weather. The public realm needs to be attractive to all cultures, ages and abilities.

Without change, England risks further polarisation. Addressing the poor quality of places for public gatherings is now urgent.

Conclusions

The internet has slowly eroded the need for people having to meet fellow citizens. The pandemic has further reduced real-world interactions. Technology seeping deeper into everyday life raises the potential of a more isolated society. Free to access public spaces is critical for communities to stay in touch in the real world.

The political discourse around local issues cannot be online alone. To allow this will lead to unhealthy debate and will undermine stable democracy. Views are best challenged and debated in the open, in places where alternative voices can be heard.

Open, free, real-world forums, like town squares, are the best spaces for such discussion to happen. Being open will also allay some fears around privacy, censorship and freedom of expression.

Britain is in the grip of a mental health crisis, with loneliness and a sense of isolation increasing. Social media gets some of the blame. Not much is written about the lack of public amenity spaces.

England needs to rethink its approach to the public realm. Design should encourage serendipity and random conversations. Learning from Spain’s public spaces would be a good start.

We are in the fifth decade of the internet. It will be one that will see the virtual world and the physical world merge. Successful societies this decade will be the ones with the most engaging public realm.

Introducing technology into these spaces is the next phase around the world. Creating buzzing ambient public spaces will be essential for community lifeblood. Animated public squares will also attract the next generation of innovators.

England needs to rethink the public realm urgently! This is where ‘levelling up’ has to begin.**

John M

All images John McKiernan ©2022

** Levelling Up. A Conservative government manifesto pledge. What does it mean? https://www.centreforcities.org/levelling-up/

[1] see Public Space

[2] see Eivissa

[3] see Censorship

[4] see Apple Privacy

[5] see Leiston and Sizewell

[6] see Brexit

[7] see AI Supermarkets

EIVISSA – IBIZA TOWN PT.1

Eivissa, a municipality on the Spanish island of Ibiza, is changing. A seedy, shabby town 25 years ago, it is transforming into a distinctive city. Part 1 of 2. First impressions.


Ibiza Town

The Spanish city of Eivissa is better known in the U.K. as Ibiza Town. It has a poor reputation. 25 years ago it was no different to port cities the world over. Eivissa had dingy smelly narrow streets, loud bars, seedy clubs and general unpleasantness. Returning to visit was low on the itinerary list.

First impression

The first visit to Eivissa was brief, to collect an item from a warehouse. The city appeared the same as remembered, except cleaner. Bendy roads with poor signage and people driving too fast, making driving stressful. Streets snake around poor quality industrial architecture and plots of open wasteland. Without a second reason to return, this view would have been the final impression. Fortunately, the second visit furnished a far better opinion of this changing city.

Thoughtfulness

On initial impressions, downtown Eivissa felt like other large Mediterranean cities. High buildings crowd over narrow avenues, shading out the sunny January daylight. The design of the streets focuses on protection from the blazing summer heat. Walkways are clean and well maintained. Cars park bumper to bumper. Only when strolling a short while does a distinct identity begins to emerge.

There is a thoughtfulness to the town plan. The industrial area first visited was the old Eivissa. It was a town rapidly growing into a city without a plan or direction. Planning laws in the 1970s were probably akin to the wild west. Spain as a country was awaking from decades of Franco dictatorship. Business people and developers grabbed what they could. The roads and services were afterthoughts.

The Ibiza Town spreading out from the port area today has a sense of collective thinking. There is a feeling of consideration. A balance exists between the needs of tourists, the city’s main income generator, and local people. [1]

Zoning

There are large areas of pedestrianisation. Public squares with cafes, narrow streets with limited or no parking. There appears to be a policy of zoning. The casinos seem to be concentrated on the fringe of downtown, facing out onto the main road. It makes sense to keep 24-hour type businesses located in an area with the least potential to disrupt residents.

It becomes noticeable that certain streets attract similar kinds of business sectors. Exercise is one example. Several gyms neighbour each other. The retail on these streets offers related goods, from supplements to running shoes. The cafes advertise healthy food options. Food shops sell vegan and vegetarian supplies.

It is unknown whether there is a deliberate business clustering policy or it’s organic. What is clear is that residents head to this district for indoor exercise.

Consideration

Heritage has become part of the city. Historic buildings are being tastefully modernised. They can be experienced rather than set aside as artefacts to be observed from distance.

Children are not caged in, as so often seen in England. Families can enjoy the city while children play without the demand for money or restriction. A climbing frame can be practical and sculptural, fulfilling many needs.

From bins to bicycle parking, every aspect seems considered. Nothing appears to be an afterthought.

Walkways blend seamlessly into one another, encouraging walking, exploring. Subtle and practical lighting for hours of darkness provides a sense of romance. Eivissa feels safe and invites investigating.

Pride

One of the considerable differences between English and Spanish urban space is the quality of the walkways.

There is a lot of care taken in Spain. The design, installation and maintenance of street paving are paramount. It is the same whether in the smallest town to the largest city. Walkways are central to the identity of an area, evoking strong held civic pride.

In England, it is rare to find well-designed walkways. Only public space privately owned or heavily commercial has quality walkways. Paving is always relegated to insignificance within urban planning, unimportant.

Conclusion

There has been no research beyond visiting Eivissa undertaken for this post. The importance was to focus on personal observations. Part.2 will be to look into the urban plan and seek the views of locals.

Eivissa feels as if it has a 30-year plan, which is two-thirds of a way through implementing. The start point was people. What do people need? Not just the tourist who bring the income but the residents as well.

It is the eye for detail that makes Eivissa feel so exciting. The pride of the people constructing the streetscape. The whole of downtown exudes pride that is spreading outwards. Driving out of the city, in the opposite direction to the warehouses, there are new modern roads. Underpasses and properly designed roundabouts. The policy is clearly to build the new city properly and retrofit the old town for modern living.

Eivissa has the potential to become another Spanish urban design success story to rival, or even surpass Bilbo. While modernising, the city is carving out a unique identity. A rare success in city regeneration.

Part 2 of this post will involve an analysis of the city plan and local attitudes. Do any of these observations fit with the formal urban plan?

John M

[1] see Public Space

PUBLIC SPACE

It is three years since the outbreak of COVID-19. Discussions have turned to what the post-pandemic world may look like. Technology is at the forefront. Lost within the debates has been the importance of public space. As the world goes virtual, real-world gathering places will become the hot issue.


The Internet

The internet will be 40 years old on 1 January 2023. It allows the creation of a virtual world almost unimaginable 50 years ago. The World Wide Web (www.) became available 10-years later. How much harder would the pandemic have been without the web?

The internet has become an extension of everyday life. It allows mass connectivity. People communicate through an array of online mediums. Social media chat has overtaken voice calls as the communication tool of choice for the young. WhatsApp and Signal have relegated the use of email in business. The email itself replaced the printed document, the business mainstay for centuries. [1]

Business meetings

Business meetings seemed unaffected by the internet. People in business still preferred to meet in person and sit around tables. The pandemic called a halt to these face to face meetings, except in specific circumstances. The rise of Zoom and other video technologies began in earnest. Ways of doing business changed and will not be returning to how it was.

The loss of workplace meetings has caused a widespread disruption within firms. Work meetings are now more likely online than one-to-one. It cuts off a source for meeting new people, social interaction and serendipity. For some working people, it has also reduced personal contact more generally.

These changes are not only taking place in offices. Automatic checkout in supermarkets removes this most mundane of interactions. Maybe not something missed for those with busy lives. For those alone, the shop cashier may be the only human interaction that day. [2]

The pandemic has sped up the automation of everyday life. 

Doctors appointments by video link are becoming a norm. Banks close down branches, forcing people online. Buying insurance, holiday or toothpaste from an algorithm is as likely as a person.

Even in construction, the rise of efficient technologies, such as 3D printing, will reduce the requirements for human teams.

Isolation

There are fewer reasons to meet in person for a non-social purpose.

Despite global connectivity, there is an increase in isolation and dis-association. Workplace reliance on providing social interaction has diminished. Workers are finding difficulty transitioning to a virtual world. Online activities only please certain aspects of emotional fulfilment. Humans are social creatures, by and large, and demand social contact.

Workplace

The workplace for the majority will not be returning to how it was pre-pandemic. The impact will go beyond how people work each day. Social interaction at work will become unrecognisable from previous decades. New ways of working are emerging. However, new forms of social contact have not yet materialised.

Public Space

Public spaces will need to adapt to fill the social void left by virtual working. Some parts will be picked up by the private sector. Work hubs, cafes and a redefined retail sector will fulfil some needs for people who can pay. The rest will require open, free to access public gathering spaces, like the old town square. [3]

Two-tier England

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the two-tier society existing in England. As financial disparity widens, so does access to the internet and public space.  

Without paying for broadband, fast access to knowledge, easily accessible to others, is denied. Only those who can afford monthly contracts have access to unlimited mobile data.

The same is happening in public spaces. Even when public facilities with cafes are accessible, the inability to buy coffee can still create a barrier.

England requires a bridge between commercialised and non-income generating public spaces.

Extremes of English public spaces: Granary Square, London Kings Cross and a public square in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Conclusion

In England, it’s the market that has presided over the public sphere through recent generations. The High Street is the most obvious. Privatisation of squares and whole streets is not a new phenomenon in England. The pace of privatisation is the real cause for concern.

Privatised space often comes with restrictions on who can use it. The right of all citizens to assemble regardless of wealth or age has become more restrictive. Public places not reliant on enterprise are often left neglected. The online world is seeing similar barriers. Barriers risk alienating people and furthering polarisation.

Public space has to be redefined in England. Urban design should follow the templates of European neighbours like Spain, where people are the starting point, not commerce. [3] [4]

With workplace socialisation in decline, a rethinking of public spaces has become essential.

John M

[1] also see Censorship

[2] see AI Supermarkets

[3] see Town Square

[4] see Eivissa (Ibiza Town Pt.1)

CENSORSHIP

The lines between privacy, censorship and freedom of speech blurred as the internet evolved. This blurring is where the battle for social media is happening. Only real-world dialogue and understanding will produce a solution fair to all.


It‘s unfair accusing governments of abdicating duty around online communication. The issues are complex. Every decision a government makes will have long term ramifications. Unlike laws within a country’s borders, the internet requires global solutions. What one country deems libellous will be satire in another.

Culture. Economic standing. Educational attainment. Religious and political norms. Many considerations have to feed into the internet debate. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides the first step.

Overlords

In January 2021, Twitter removed the account of Donald Trump. During this period, Donald Trump was one of the most popular accounts, by followers, on the platform. He was also the sitting President of the United States of America. In removing the account, Twitter effectively issued a D-Notice.

A D-Notice is an old UK government device sent to media editors to voluntarily not report on a story. The fundamental difference between a democratic government and Twitter is one is elected, and the other is not.

And herein lies the rub. Who gets to decide what is and what is not acceptable online?

Has Twitter become a new form of democratic state? Rather than built on votes, Twitter runs on Tweets and sentiment.

Sentiment

Marketers use sentiment analysis to ascertain campaign effectiveness. It is a powerful tool for understanding how the public reacts to a topic or event. What it does not have are policy setting attributes. And this is what sets a government apart from corporations. Governments, in theory, set policies for the overall good of society in its entirety. Corporate policies set strategic goals for the company, shareholders and customers.

Distributed power

Aside from politics, the Trump episode highlights a dispersal of power. Beyond a vote, citizens can now vocalise their views, demands and concerns globally. This vocalisation has brought benefits and worrying situations. The storming of the US Capitol in January 2021 is one case in point.

Printing press politics

At the time of its creation, the printing press was the social media platform of its day. What followed sparked the violence of the Protestant Reformation and widespread education. One saw families and communities torn apart while the other brought societies together.

Our present period is no different.

The 2011 Arab Spring was, in part, attributed to social media as much as the underlying discontent. In Syria, a brutal war ensued. In Saudi Arabia, women began forcing reform around equality.

Protests, Black Lives Matter (BLM) and #MeToo went global due to social media. Groups opposed to change also use the same platforms to maintain the status quo.

So who is the referee for social media? And who was the referee for the printing press?


Public space and the arts

Public space has been the one constant throughout the history of societal change. Back to the time of the Greek agora, public space has proven pivotal, along with the arts, in forging progress.

Technological interaction is integral to progress. Real-world interaction is essential to peaceful co-existence.

It has never been more critical to have open gathering places and public spaces. Real-world environments challenge opinions and viewpoints. There is more exposure when people meet in person. More reactions are on show; body language, sweat, pupil dilation. These reactions can be positive or negative, depending on the situation. It is a different dynamic to sitting semi-anonymous behind a keyboard.

Fourth Portal

Public space, where people come together remains the best place for consensus to emerge. The arts will play a pivotal role as always. The ability of artists to see beyond the mundane will light the path.

The haphazard business journey has been to uncover what a hub of the future will look like? What does it need to convey? What will make it different?

The Fourth Portal hub needs to counter-balance the online environment. A hybrid meeting place, operating in both the real and virtual world. Open discussion and dialogue are intrinsic to the hub.

A successful Fourth Portal will spill over into other public forums. The reassertion of the historical value of public space is needed. Encouragement is required to reevaluate the importance of the town square and marketplace as places to gather. Urban design needs to incorporate hybrid relatedness into all future buildings. A well designed public space will be both physical and virtual.

Conclusion

Censorship demands by one group will be freedom of expression for another.

Measures to balance different views have not kept pace with the growth of online platforms. Meanwhile, the internet has become an extension of everyday life. It has allowed mass connectivity. Despite this, there is an increase in isolation and dis-association. Something is not right!

Censorship and privacy laws will be unable to address the problems of online interaction. Only real-life engagement and dialogue will solve these issues.

Governments are struggling to draft legislation. Big tech presently fills the void with their own rules.

We are only on our second-generation since the creation of the World Wide Web. The printing press has had dozens of generations shaping laws, regulations and principles, and we are still tinkering.

Public space, where people come together, remains the best place for consensus to emerge. It may take a long time. Discussion allows a better understanding. Ultimately, new online manners will emerge through real-world conversations – not on Twitter. The Fourth Portal will play a small part in nudging this conversation towards equitable consensus.

John M

APPLE PRIVACY

Apple focusing on privacy is proving to be beneficial for customers. Unfortunately, the high cost of products deters many from owning a device. This brings into focus the price of online security. Is there a two-tier internet when it comes to privacy?


Internet consumer models

There are three distinct consumer facing internet business models; advertising, donation and pay.

  • Facebook is the most recognisable free at the point of use Internet product. It derives the majority of its income from advertisers and its content from users.
  • Donation models rely on users support through donating cash or personal time. Examples include online news sites, not-for-profit and charitable services.
  • And there are straightforward payment models.

A few brands stick to a single business model; Wikipedia is the best known. Many of the most famous online brands run on a combination of these models. Google, as an example, combines subscription and advertising for its free service.

Apple model

Apple developed a different business approach. It built the company on quality hardware providing internet and downloadable services. Advertising forms a small percentage of its total revenue. The core income derives from selling computers. Charging App developers for access to the Apple ecosystem has also proved lucrative. Apple is one of the world’s most valuable companies, with dollar reserves in the billions.

For its supporters, the success of the brand is about quality, both of the devices and security. Unlike the advertising model, Apple does not sell customer or user data. Privacy sits at the centre of the business model. For Apple loyalists, it’s the most important aspect of owning an Apple over another product.

Two-tier internet

An Apple laptop can be three or four times the cost of other laptops on the market. Those who cannot afford an Apple device can find security cumbersome. Protecting data involves purchasing security software. Enabling security requires a degree of understanding of the device settings. It can be a daunting task.

Creating and maintaining security settings is complex. To keep on top of all the threats is time-consuming. Ignoring security leaves users open to great peril. Risks like someone stealing bank login details is commonly understood. Longer-term risks are less appreciated. Companies build profiles on individuals over an extended period based on internet usage. Browsing habits, fitness data, travel apps and social media posts all provide aspects of a person’s profile. Over years, how much will this data determine the cost of medical care, insurance or where a person may live?

Apple Warning Pop-up

There is a real risk of commercial exploitation of data in the future. Unchecked, this will be much worse than anything being experienced at the time of writing.

There is also the reality of what a hostile government could do? Brexit has already shown the power of data manipulation (see Cambridge Analytica reports). Profiling could be used to curtail fundamental liberties in the future. This is already evident in some countries. [1]

Apple has long recognised these risks. In response, it is actively seeking to protect, at least in part, customers. But what about those who cannot afford Apple products? Who will be looking out for their privacy? Their protection? 

Market solution

As it stands, the market is encouraged to protect people from these risks. Except the market tends to serve the wealthier at the expense of the most vulnerable.

Conclusion

The scale of Apple now allows it to dictate how all others within its ecosystem behaves. The company also has increased power outside of its ecosystem. The board of Apple recognised that customers were becoming concerned about privacy. Its response was to introduce a raft of measures to reduce app owners ability to harvest users data. Apple’s response needs to be replicated by governments and institutions. All citizens need the protections Apple is seeking to provide its customers. Data protection should be regardless of personal financial circumstances.

John M

[1] see Brexit Britain

CROMER

Arriving at the shabby-chic North Norfolk seaside town of Cromer, I was taken aback by how little it resembles Great Yarmouth and spent a very pleasant day strolling the lovely streets and excellent beaches.


Great Yarmouth myths

While in Great Yarmouth, there were numerous comparisons to Cromer in North Norfolk being similar, with poverty, social issues and struggling. Norfolk friends would scoff and those from outside the county were a little puzzled as they could not remember Cromer being down at the heel. So I took the bus from Holt, where I am based for two weeks while I explore North Norfolk to see the town for myself.

Old Cromer photograph, shop window.

First impressions

As the bus pulled in, Cromer looked clean but shabby. Looking up at some of the windows, it was obvious that there is poverty in the town, so my expectations initially leaned towards what I heard in Great Yarmouth. This swiftly changed however, and the more I walked the more I could appreciate why so many people, particularly those who grew up or holidayed as children in Norfolk, are in love with the town.

Architectural Motifs

The schools are back, so the kids on the beach were infants with parents, paddling in the sea on a glorious warm sunny day. It was a day for creating childhood memories.

The first thing that struck me was how untouched the town has been by ugly developments and in all likelihood, was not bombed very much during World War Two. The mixed architecture resembles that of several Kent seaside towns. Whitstable houses and beach huts. Three floor Georgian houses in street rows at right angles to the sea, as found in Cliftonville and Ramsgate. Long sweeping paths from the top of the cliffs down to the seafront, as in Folkestone. Some of the housing is in need of TLC but not much that I observed would be deemed unfit for human living, as is the case right across Great Yarmouth. The town has living accommodation for all tastes it seems.

Keep it simple

Whether through lack of money and funding or whether it is by policy and design there is a noticeable difference in the approach to urban planning in Cromer versus Great Yarmouth.  Cromer appears to have a more thoughtful approach to planning.  No doubt irritating to local developers and people wishing to see change, the town benefits from allowing things to develop at a considered pace, not seeking to gentrify (although that is seeming to be happening in pockets), the town is self-regenerating, the best kind of change. 

The children’s play area on the beach and wildlife exhibition (photos below) are prime examples of very simple yet highly effective public art, information and play spaces. All over the town there are small yet strong permanent or semi-permanent interventions that are informed, intriguing and easy on the eye. An old Ford tractor on the seafront, which I guess never moves, is a perfect example of creating a public intervention that will appeal to people of all ages that has probably cost little or nothing to install.

L to R: Public artworks and wildlife information on seafront paths with open access, Tribute to local hero, Ford tractor parked alongside other ageing vehicles and boats, attracting interest of people of all ages, Simple, beautifully designed and constructed children’s play area on seafront, free and open access.

Care and attention

There is no more damning evidence of the disrespect and lack of care in Great Yarmouth from borough council and outsiders than when taking a cursory glance at any building site in the town. The council itself does not enforce rules on its own sites or cares how construction takes place on other sites. The three photos below are just some examples of practices in Great Yarmouth that you just don’t see elsewhere. Coming across a clean building site with some block paving being laid in Cromer brought home the difference in approach and mentality to that found in Great Yarmouth. 

L to R: Great Yarmouth Aldi refit (summer 2021), Man in flat cap and worker with trainers on demolition site on North Quay, Great Yarmouth (May 2021), Market square roof construction, Great Yarmouth council led project (September 2021), block paving and restoration, Cromer (September 2021).

Food and Drink

Cromer’s food and drink offer has been the best I have found in Norfolk, outside Norwich. Still not a huge choice but there are some very good coffee shops, nice new bars and The Red Lion pub has a wide and excellent selection of Norfolk ales. The local speciality is crab, which I did not try on this visit, and makes the town regionally famous. I opted to visit No1 Cromer, a Fish and Chip shop that I have only heard good things about. Chips were the first thing I tried on my first visit to Great Yarmouth in 2019 and with hindsight set the tone for my time in the town. Cromer No1 fish and chips were very good, and far far superior to anything available in Great Yarmouth town centre or beach front, however probably only on par with the White Swan in Great Yarmouth, an excellent fish restaurant deserving of national accolades.

L to R: First portion of chips in Great Yarmouth in 2019 (read more here), Fish and Chips from No1 Cromer, High St, Part of a wide selection of Norfolk beers available at The Red Lion.

Comparison

Besides both being by the sea and in the same county of England, there is little else in common between Cromer and Great Yarmouth. The brash and uncaring approach of the council, businesses and developers in Great Yarmouth is amplified by the quiet, reflective and highly effective approach being undertaken in Cromer. Spending a day does not provide a deep insight into a town it has to be acknowledged, however comparing this visit with the first trip to Great Yarmouth in 2019 (here) provides a pretty good indication of the power of first impressions.

JM

STAYCATION PICTOGRAPHIC

Pictographic of Great Yarmouth capturing the middle and last weekends of the holiday peak season and indicating the hoped for 2021 summer staycation boom was a muted affair, leaving a bleak outlook for the businesses still operating.


Staycations

With the Covid-19 pandemic still spreading across the globe, international travel has been a less attractive proposition in 2021. There was expectation across hospitality and tourism for a staycation boom with the British public choosing to stay in the UK for the summer holidays rather than travelling overseas. Despite the UK summer weather being generally poor with weeks of grey, rain and often chilly, many regions and towns have been booming as predicted, particularly Cornwall and North Norfolk. Unfortunately, Great Yarmouth seemed to have bucked this positive trend.

Weekend 20-21st August 2021

Bleak outlook

Visiting Great Yarmouth on two separate weekends during summer peak season, it became apparent that the town was not having the staycation boom that other UK holiday destinations were experiencing. This once vibrant holiday destination was again struggling, with sparsely populated restaurants and few retail customers to be spotted. Many more shops have closed since leaving the town in May 2021 and the outlook for a good number of the businesses that remain operating looks bleak indeed.

Saturday 05th September 2021

Sunday 06th September 2021

Sunday 5th was the busiest day observed during my time in Great Yarmouth. A classic car event was taking place and the weather was good, warm, sunny, no wind, just a gentle summer breeze.  The seafront was comfortable, certainly not packed and there were plenty of spaces to park a car.  Away from the seafront the town was empty. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, many businesses were not open, including a whole stretch of the Pleasure Beach at 1pm. It is a mystery why the businesses are not open until 11pm throughout the summer to maximise trade, one of the many mysteries of Great Yarmouth. 

Delusion or obfuscation

This post documents, for the record, the streets and seafront of Great Yarmouth over two weekends of peak season during summer 2021, regarded locally as the most important and busiest weeks of the year.  It serves to counter any claims from those in power in the town that Great Yarmouth thrived throughout the entire summer.

John M