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April 11, 2007

VeeSee

veesee.jpgVeeSee is a website that has been launched in the UK by an interpreter, Susie Grant. The site is operating under the Deafeatures Ltd.

Before I go any further, I really want to be positive about online development, but I'm really struggling here. More about that later. The site has a very strange mix of web 1.0 content and design, mixed with a web 2.0 approach through a social network. On the face of it, the site offers:

A Marketplace, like eBay aka Sell and Buy:
Just like eBay, you can list items for sale. The cost is anything between 20p and £1.50 depending on price band. Before you think about selling your stack of old hearing aids, it is banned.

My immediate question here: why would I want to list an item here, when I get a bigger buying audience over at eBay, Amazon Associates etc, which would push the price up? Why are Deaf people any different in this respect, and what are the advantages of using this site to a mainstream one? The only thing I can think of, is selling specialist products or reaching out to a niche market. Auctions for general stuff, I can't see how it benefits me?

Courses, aka Sell and Learn:
You can get paid to upload course materials online. Exactly how much is unclear, and my guess payment will link into the quality of materials and demand. However, should you wish to follow a course online, you need to pay. This is not immediately obvious and I get this information from the terms and conditions which talks about refund for courses should one be cancelled.

My immediate response to this is around online learning. In a society where online content is not freely accessible, and hearing people are able to either (a) access free sites, or (b) access LSC supported sites where discounts are available should one be on benefits, it kind of capitalises on inequality. However, how much different is this to private companies offering courses? Deaf people need to ask themselves this question, and sufficient discussion needs to take place.

Social Network site, aka VeeSee Community:
Deaf people in the UK hang out on Bebo these days. To build a social network, it takes a lot of effort and where is the attraction to register? There appears to be no open source API in use, thus your own data locked in and not able to be transferred to another social network site. There needs the ability to insert widgets or content from say Flickr, YouTube.

"Hosted vlogs" aka VeeSee TV:
Signed TV with subtitles, or so it states on the website somewhere. This appears to be subscription based after one month. Actually I'm very confused about this, as there is this (when I looked appeared to be a lot of talking and no access) and a pop up box (that doesn't execute in Firefox) that is accessed from the top navigation bar, which provides some signed content. So where exactly am I supposed to go?

Why can't this material be placed on free sites? Where is the encouragement of vlogs? Is video online really TV? If its bandwidth that's justifying the fee, why not host videos at third party sites?

Information aka VeeSee EyeBytes:
From its title, it suggests easily digestible information. Only its not. Where's the formatting of the paragraphs, my eyes just glazed over. Secondly, where is the BSL content? Where there is a 'National Calendar'? Its just blank this end, and there's no RSS. How would this be different from other sites that already provide the same?

Chat and Discuss:
This feature hasn't been launched yet, only its "Coming Soon", therefore I cannot comment. Its not in the interests of any site to launch with pages missing. If the content is not there people are not going to go back.

Some other comments:

Who's advising you? This site is already in danger of falling flat on its face.

Patronising: The first newsletter (PDF file) says "... and never have to feel alone or isolated again". That by itself makes me never want to visit again, and boycott it. What doesn't already exist on the net already that doesn't allow me to interact with other people? There are other examples on the site that makes me ask this.

Paternalistic: In an age where blogging and vlogs are gaining steady ground, why is an interpreter setting up this site and people send in their videos, and moreover payment has to be made to access this? Why can't people just upload videos to YouTube? Where is the empowerment to allow Deaf people to create and own their own content? Own pages on another site really doesn't do it. Whist there might be every good intention here, it fails to really get its aim. Content has to be decentralised. My other question around centralised content, and locked in data is around how money is made in that manner. The same questions could be asked of mainstream hosted sites though.

Lack of accessibility to the Deaf Community: For a website that wants to exist around the Deaf community, there is very little or nothing by way of BSL navigation or dissemination of information. The terms and conditions contain words such as: circumvent, perpetual, irrevocable, proprietary, "Verified Rights Owner program" (USA spelling).

Long sentences such as this one, "Without limiting other remedies, we may limit, suspend, or terminate our service and user accounts, prohibit access to our website, remove hosted content, and take technical and legal steps to keep users off the Websites if we think that they are creating problems, possible legal liabilities, or acting inconsistently with the letter or spirit of our policies. We also reserve the right to cancel unconfirmed accounts."

In all the waffle around terms and conditions, "We do charge fees for using other services, such as listing items. When you list an item or use a service that has a fee you have an opportunity to review and accept the fees that you will be charged based on our Fee Listings, which we may change from time to time." People should not be expected to read a load of inaccessible English to find that out.

I should not need to say this to an interpreter.

Layout is messed up in Firefox: I do not want to be forced to open IE to view VeeSee. However, you are forcing me to do this, as in Firefox I get half a screen, where the video plays at all.

One month is not long enough for a trial, plus to bribe me into paying: I'm not going to get hooked, I will watch free vlogs elsewhere instead. Who is seriously going to pay? As for payment, how many people have access to a credit card? I don't use them.

Lack of transparency and bad navigation: The navigation is nothing short of hell. See my comments under VeeSee above. There isn't consistency in presentation of information. From this page, its subscription based after one month. However, it took me a while to find it. The site is obviously out to make money and be run as a business, however, it needs to be clearer.

Tries to do too much: Tries to be too much, and my head is all over the place. Things such as advice leaflets are in danger of being dated extremely quickly. Do you have the resources to do this? Would people want an advice environment, when you are trying to get them to hang out too? What part of the site that is UNIQUE?

Lack of RSS capabilities: if a website does not have RSS or a blog these days, I really don't want to know. Bottom line, I'm not coming back. Web designers in the UK really need to understand this.

Stupid terms and conditions: Who wrote all this? This bit made me laugh, "You agree that you will not use any robot, spider, scraper or other automated means to access the Websites for any purpose without our express written permission." So they don't want Google, Live, Yahoo Search etc to find them? What's the point in having such a website if noone can actually find it? Search engine bots have to write to them first? As a friend said, I would like to see this being enforced in court.

Whilst this site has possibly been established with the best of intentions, it gets it wrong. In an era when Deaf people should be owning and hosting their own content, where decentralisation of information is a mainstay, here we have the complete opposite. I'm saying all this, not because I want to knock down effort. I want a better quality space, especially in the UK, and right now its not happening. All I'm capable of feeling is embarrassed and ashamed, the UK can do better than this.

June 14, 2006

Brits subsidising the BBC for an international audience

As any Brit knows, the BBC is funded by the tv licence, which we have to fork out annually if we receive any tv broadcast (nevermind if we want to watch BBC or not). All this money goes into Auntie Beeb's pocket, which does what it likes with. The BBC has warned, if we watch tv programmes via the net, then the place where we are viewing them, has to have a licence. It doesn't matter if you don't actually watch, a machine with a broadcast card will suffice. Think about the places where this could happen, workplaces, an internet cafe, picking up random wifi in a concourse lounge. Is the BBC effectively saying we have restrain outselves from browsing, until we check out if someplace has that bit of paper? What happens if you take a laptop with a broadcast card, to someplace with no bit of paper? How is the BBC going to monitor all this? Does it have power to make private internet companies disclose the physical address of IP numbers, against its statistics? Is it going to check for cookies in a computer? If the latter, what happens if you own a laptop, accessed your tv in a place with a licence and subsequently went to a place that did not. How do you prove this, will they literally have to marry IP numbers with downloads? How do they sift through their statistics? This appears to be saying, its not just about tv content viewed over a broadcast card, but tv watched over the net.

Their bespoke statistics to measure site traffic was launched this week, where the BBC said that off the shelf packages did not suffice. Perhaps the publicity for this package conveniently forgot to mention what it was really for. Apart from its pictures, is really monitoring people 'turning on the tv', and an army of heavies in waiting, to cart you off to court. What pisses me off about this, is the international audience that BBCi attracts, who all get to watch BBC content for free, with other countries besides the UK heavier net users. No need for them to live in fear, and perhaps a modern day version of BBC World Service? Modern World Service or not, the BBC's bandwidth (read servers, space for the services plus electric to run them) the UK licence payer has to subsidise the rest of the world. Furthermore, if a Brit accesses the same content and no bit of paper, we end up in court. Why do Brits have to pay to maintain a service so someone in some other country can access content? Granted, developing countries could benefit from, and one is happy to support this, but what about the developed nations?

Are licence payers actually happy for their money to be used in this manner? Should we just be proud that the BBC is in effect being an international flagship for quality standard and impartiality?

Bottom line though, is there the emergence of a two tiered internet, for Brits. Whatever happened to a place accessible for all?