Aahmed ElAmin, one of the developers of Citzalia (whose words were followed hook, line and sinker by The Guardian) has penned his own side of the story at a website entitled The Royal Gazette. Odd location, and his approach to the whole thing is even odder. You can read the whole piece here, and as parts of it specifically attack me, I’ll deal with those one by one.

First, a widely-read blogger, Jon Worth, blogged about the site, speculating that Parliament was spending about four million euros on the site.

No Aahmed. I made it very clear from the outset that I did not know the precise source of the money. I found two budget lines, each allocating 4 million Euro to ESN, the web agency behind Citzalia, and linked to those. I made it clear that I did not know whether this was the case. Plus no information about funding was made available on the Citzalia website when I wrote the first piece. If you assumed you could just avoid any critique of your project then you are naive and stupid, and if you knew you were going to be criticised and did not think to explain how the project is funded then you’re just stupid.

He then went on to use Citzalia as an example, rather bizarrely, of the Parliament’s supposedly collective aim to squish a measure that allows EU citizens to bring forth legislative issues by referendum.

The words I used were “All of this seems especially poignant just now as the European Parliament seems to be doing its best to kill off the European Citizens’ Initiative” – which Aahmed then twists into Citzalia squashing the citizens’ initiative. No… What I am saying is that the European Parliament cannot get its initiatives for regular democracy right, and until it does that, why is it creating models for virtual democracy?

Since then, the four-million-euro figure has been carried by other blogs, despite our post correcting the original spark.

Yes – all those blogs had posted the 4 million figure long before there was any formal response from ESN. I even posted comments on many blogs correcting the figure before ESN did. The official reaction was just too slow.

The original blogger himself amended the article to use the correct figures but also responded that we should have contacted him as soon as he blogged his speculation. Huh?

Yeah, huh. You informed me about this project, direct to me via Twitter, a super-fast medium. I post a reply direct to you, to the Citzalia account, stating I don’t agree, with a link to the blog entry. Everyone blogs and speculates for half a day, with no reply whatsoever from the Citzalia team, who then freak out. Come on folks! I might have a widely read blog, but I am a one person operation, and blogging is a hobby. You have 20+ staff, a €275k budget, Google alerts, RSS feeds and hell I even informed you I had written the blog entry! If you were not ready to monitor the reactions to your project you should have not released information about it in the first place.

Your problem Aahmed, and indeed ESN overall, is you were actually made to look rather silly by a bunch of amateurs on this issue. Use of social media is not just nice and smily and chirpy and new and funky – it’s a hard world too. Maybe after this episode you could have learnt that a little, but judging from your piece you seem to think I’m responsible for the whole episode, so it looks like there has been scant little learning going on.


  1. Totally bizarre. For what it’s worth, I think your posts handle this whole situation with a professional attitude.
    After all this I still don’t get the point of the game. Surely easier just to have a Second Life European Parliament rather than a whole new programme?
    But even then, which demographic that they are seeking to attract actually uses avatar games so avidly that they’d approach this? I must be getting old.

  2. Oh and it was the Sunday, not Daily Telegraph.

  3. Jon,

    Priceless, (and why Bermuda – do you thnk he is a tax exile?) It does rather suggest that your comments (and after all you did say you liked the work they had done, just questioned the justification).

    What is more you went around, spending time to ensure that all who had followed up your piece had the financial correction. (And thank you for that).

    Amazing how a web developing team like the Citizalia lot just don’t seem to get it.

    Hey ho, onwards and upwards.

  4. Elated

    The irony is you ended your posting with “If someone knows the precise answer to these funding questions please do leave a comment”.

    aah well… this too will pass

  5. Reading his response at the Royal Gazette, I can’t fathom that an actual company with people working for them would go on such a rampage against a single blogger.

    What I got from your original blog post, Jon, was that the EP should look into the kind of projects it creates and the timing of the game is rather unfortunate given the lack of efforts directed towards ECI.

    That Citzalia then turns this around as “our little, well-meaning company against a mass of evil bloggers” is just a cheap publicity stunt.

    If citizen’s of the EU aren’t allowed to critizise how the EP – or the EU in general – spends its money, no matter the figures, then surely Citzalia is just a major failure. I think they should do a bit of introspection and realise it’s all about democracy, not about publicity.

  6. @Leigh – I mean all Aahmed’s super positive stuff about the project appeared in the version of the article that appeared on The Guardian’s website and that, in its final form, the article lacked balance.

  7. Jon,

    Having followed the discussion, I think that you are right about your statements, whereas Aahmed ElAmin distorts them trying to make his point. You are not responsible for the exaggerations made by others, who latched on to your original blog post on Citzalia.

    An online game about a virtual European Parliament does not make the EP less powerful, but your questions still stand: if it is worth the money and if this is the way to improve (the image of) the EP.

    The Europarties and their political foundations are heavily subsidised by the EP nowadays, but we see disturbingly little quality output from them to improve pan-European debate, launch policy initiatives, engage with citizens and mobilise voters.

    Here is one issue of real importance worth discussion besides the storm in the virtual tea cup.

  8. Oi, Jon, what do you mean ‘followed hook line and sinker by the Guardian’?

  9. I note that he links the project blog, but not your “offending” post or even blog. I suppose googling your name would be just as good, and maybe I’m too used to the hyperlinking habits of blogging, but that doesn’t sit right with me.

    I’m very confused about the location too; perhaps it’s a strange way of letting off steam – actually going as far as publishing something, but putting it somewhere where it (presumably) won’t make any impact?

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