Louise Mensch invents Twitter; shame Twitter already did it

Will you Menshn? Probably not.

The end result of Louise Mensch and Luke Bozier's side-project, MenschBozier, was revealed today by TechCrunch. It's called Menshn, and it's Twitter. Twitter may have already invented Twitter, but that won't stop MenschBozier.

The new site is focused around sending Tweet-like messages (of up to 180 characters, rather than 140, which is a crucial differentiator for some reason) about specific topics. The site will launch in the US only, and be focused around the American elections.

Mensch told TechCrunch:

I had a brainwave over Christmas about Twitter hashtags and the frustration of following one topic, especially in politics.

Then I got my husband on Twitter [Peter Mensch is the manager of heavy metal band Metallica, among others] and although he liked following people in the music industry and what they had to say, he hated the mundane tweets about people having breakfast. He wanted something on topic.

Menshn also aims to encourage quality with a rating system, similar to that on sites like Reddit, and by stripping out many of the features that make Twitter such a vibrant medium, like retweets and mentions (yes, the site's name is a pun on a functionality it doesn't actually have). The site still has its analogue of following someone, likely called something like "Mensching" them, but if your tweet is the top five per cent of tweets, then everyone will see it, whether they follow you or not.

Menshn seems to be the creation of someone who likes twitter but is annoyed that they don't have enough control over it. For Louise Mensch, it will most likely be a better experience; Twitter must be a horrible place for her to be, because the service simply doesn't deal well with people who set out to abuse celebrities and nothing else. But for most other people, all the functions which Mensch and Bozier seem to dislike so much – the "off topic" discussions, personal conversations, viral jokes and ephemerality – are precisely the important functions of the site. Persuading people to give those up for the chance to have their tweet seen by everyone (in a function that absolutely will not scale - can you imagine seeing the "top five per cent" of the 340 million tweets sent per day?) is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Nice website design, though.

Update

Well, we got on Menshn, and first impressions are that it has a bit of a troll problem:

 

Also, the rules are amazing:

menshn is for talking on topic. We're passionate about politics and we love debate. But if you harass, spam, clog feeds and so forth, we can delete your account without notice. So be like Fonzy and be cool.

menshn will grow and change. We can change what menshn does and the service it provides without notification to you or other users. See rule 4. We reckon you'll figure it out if we do.

menshn is not forever...

You can say that again.

The scoring system explained. Screenshot via Techcrunch.com

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.