X-Ray of a broken political system

Screenshot 2013-12-29 20.02.59

The picture in this post is an infographic built by Pedro Cruz. The circles represent portuguese companies. The bigger the circle, the more politicians where involved in managing it. You can find it here: http://pmcruz.com/eco/

He called it “An ecosystem of Corporate Politicians“, I call it an X-Ray of a broken political system.

The dataset includes data from 1975 to 2013. Which shows that this is not just a problem to be fixed, it’s a whole tradition of mixed interests and loyalties. I, for one, have long ago lost all faith in the political parties available. Whenever there is an election, I get myself out of the house to stand in line, show my ID card and push a blank vote down the ballot box. It’s my way of saying that I care, but that none of the options available make any sense to me.

Now, seeing the way major companies are organised around the political system, I can’t help but feel a bit more of dismay and, this is new, a lot more anger towards the political class.

Three players and no communication

Just keep this in mind, our PM is a social-democrat faced with a country taking financial hits from all sides, he is therefore forced to resolve all these issues of alliances between companies and opposing parties to get anything done. While he does that, we get news from him saying that things are looking up with no clear signal that they in fact are. Taxes are still high, starting a profitable company sounds like pulling off a miracle and some families are at the brink of poverty.

On the other side of things, the Socialist Party is a joke. Their communication strategy is to wait for any action by the social democrats and to counter it with an ideological speech. There is no clear plan, no actionable ideas, just shouts and soundbites against the prime minister.

The communist parties do pretty much the same, trying to rally up the middle and lower class towards demands of better quality of life and most of the time undermining any scarce effort for a joining of hands towards a solution.

As for the President, well, there is nothing I can say about him because I haven’t seen any action on his part. Ever. So he’s the non-playing character of this system.

In this scenario I don’t trust any of the remaining members of our government to be virtuous and make the right decision if they have to choose between the people or their own companies (and well-being).

Hacking it to fix it

Have you ever worked with an old computer? Or even an old software at your job that everybody hates and that stopped being efficient a million years ago?

I am going to take a leap here and say that if you answered any of those questions affirmatively that computer or software was soon replaced with a newer model. Sadly we can’t just throw our politicians out of a window like we did in the past. Also, I don’t expect to see this government passing laws that enforce political independence from private companies.

The solution I see is to raise the bar on political scrutiny. In a balanced social system, this scrutiny would come from journalist and media companies. In this status quo journalists have little resources and whether they want to or not, their publications are in some way tied to some of the major portuguese companies.

In Portugal, Political Scrutiny, good or bad, needs to come from hackers and geeks. People eager to learn and eager to build things that help others. And there are already some good examples out there about what can be done.

One of them is a site where people can view what political promises were made by their mayor.

To help fix this system, we could take that idea one step further and list relevant political actions and laws passed, with names of those involved and the private companies they work with. The goal would be to bring just a bit more transparency to politics. Of course it wouldn’t work forever, but it would at least serve as a deterrent.

What’s the use ?

Probably nothing. This idea will by no means result in a complete fix for the broken system. The only good fix would be a full reboot but we simply can’t afford it. We have however entered a time when we must take matters into our own hands.

  • Patch it wherever possible,
  • Build new tools to empower citizens,
  • Make it more transparent,
  • Throw away ideology in favour of practical and effective projects.

We have sat on our hands and the political class had their opportunity to show results. It’s about time we take action.


Why Socialbakers’ Engagement Rate is not a solid metric

Photo by Frederico Casares

We have seen it before:



Socialbakers relies on the count of total fans in a given day to be able to benchmark different pages. There is however a hidden factor, Facebook’s edge rank algorithm. The overall organic reach is not equal for every piece of content published and over the course of a month it is very likely that the page will only reach a portion of its total number of “fans”. (“Subscribers” is more like it.)

Since Socialbakers can’t access the organic, paid and viral reach of a post it relies on the little public information it has about all pages, number of fans.

And yet, this is the only way we have to benchmark a page against its competitors: not taking into account the investment in facebook sponsored posts and ads or the impact that a particular piece of content might have in regards to the exposure of a content published by brands.

Photo by Frederico Casares

A mobile app is born


A bit of context, a portuguese investments bank (BPI) organised a hackday, a challenge to build a mobile app in 24 hours or less, called Appy Day BPI. (Fullsix Portugal was involved in organising the project but I didn’t have any contact with the team.)

What followed was an amazing trip of project planning, building a proposal for the event that was later accepted. It was just the beginning.

Our team, The Radioheads, had three elements: me, Diana Costa and Paulo Gonçalves. Diana is an amazing designer and Paulo proved to be a tireless and good humoured programmer. I am not kidding, he went as far as insulting pieces of code and cursing at the laptop, making us laugh until our stomachs hurt.

How Stubs was born

Mobile apps are a dime a dozen and we were faced with the decision of following the categories proposed by the Appy Day team or go with our gut and build something we loved.

We decided to build something we love.


Stubs is an app that brings live music and the web together. It lists upcoming and past concerts and lets you browse the instagram and twitter photos that were taken at that time and place. It can also pull videos and other media, of course. But it goes far beyond this.

We wanted it to be truly useful to everyone who loves music. So we added the possibility to know what concerts your friends are going and to signal to your friends which concerts you plan to attend. There is also the possibility to buy tickets and discover new bands playing near your location.

A lot of our work around Stubs was thinking up a business model and strategy to make it truly stand out. Diana was of course in charge of building the Design, while Paulo handled the programming. My part was to come up with the concept and name around the app, something that only now is seeing the light of day, everything else was to apply for the event and as part of the jury materials we had to deliver at the start.


Defining Victory

Since the begining we had a clear goal, to make the most of the Appy Day, to build something we loved and to finish the 24 straight hours of code, caffeine and fun with an amazing story to tell.

During that time we did so much more than just code. We shot a timelapse video, had the good fortune of getting a sketch of Stubs to share with everyone, came up with a million inside jokes, made new friends and spent time with a few old ones.

Others were not as thrilled. Not everyone was happy with the decision of the jury and wrote articles showing their discontent. It makes sense for people to share their opinion when they feel treated unfairly. Personally, I don’t feel it is a constructive use of their time and energy. Like Diana said, instead of ranting on Facebook developers should look for people to invest in their project.

And that is just what we are going to do.

Our app works but it’s at a prototype stage. Bugs need to be fixed, new areas need to be created and it needs a proper home on the web. From time to time, this blog is going to drift away from talking about technology and communication to tell you how this project is going.

Back to you, what is on your mind?

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