Synergising the Social

Posted on October 7, 2010


I’ve wibbled and ranted in the past about social networking and Web 2.0, and may have given the impression that I’m a bit of a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to all this new-fangled internet. This isn’t true at all – I’m a shamefaced Facebook addict and a total whore when it comes to the social stuff.

So much so, in fact, that I think we should exploit it much more to cross-fertilise ideas between the online and LE worlds. Doing this, I argue, will lead to better communication between police and their communities, create better internal systems for LE and maybe make a few quid as well.

Take prisoners, for example. The UK’s prison population currently stands at around 85,000. This is a government figure so by the time you’ve factored in things like what defines a ‘prisoner’, what defines a ‘prison’, seasonal adjustments against a basket of currencies et cetera, the number is probably quite different. Whatever the precise number, it shows that the incarcerated element of society is a sizable demographic and one that’s been pretty much ignored by social networking sites so far. I’d like to look at this and see how we can address the problem, with a view to becoming fabulously wealthy and selling out any ideals I may have once had, leading to a movie being made about my success starring Johnny Depp as me with Rachel Weisz as the love interest.

One of Facebook’s most popular features has been the installable ‘applications’ that add extra functionality and features to the site. Games like Farmville have become massively popular, with players opening up their personal profiles to hundreds of strangers just to get a chance at building a bigger hen house or upgrading to a big red barn. I propose:


I think Prisonville could tap into this market. Players would start off with a basic cell containing nothing but a wooden bunk, a bucket to defecate in and an amorous cellmate. Over time they could build up stocks of currency (cigarettes, razors, toothpaste, mobile phone credit etc) to make their cell more homely.

Currency could be earned by slopping out neighbours’ cells as well as hiding contraband for them when a cell-search is imminent, and players could send their friends Visiting Orders to get hold of drugs, phone batteries and other items to help build up wealth. Over time a player’s back passage would get upgraded so that he could store more goods up there and build up a stock of commodities to sell. Purchasable items could include things like a waterbed, games console, curtains (and pelmets), Ikea chairs etc, all of which could be kept either in the cell or warehoused in the colon.

Prisoner-networking could be integrated into Facebook’s new location-aware features, to provide functionality like Foursquare – once an inmate has occupied a cell or wing for a certain amount of time, they are made the ‘Daddy’ of that location. Challengers can seek to remove him from power by hitting him over the head with a few snooker balls in a sock or throwing him off the landing.

OK, maybe these ideas could do with a bit of work, but at least I’m thinking about it. It’s a shame to have all these high-end smartphones floating around prisons without making full use of them, after all.

Bringing the Social Inside

At the same time, police forces can learn a lot from the social internet. Look at the internal crime management systems we use, for example – in terms of UI, they’re generally a sprawling mess that makes even Encase’s layout look logical (usually a clear case of salespeople selling features that don’t exist and have to be gaffer-taped on to the existing software), and there’s often a distinct lack of fun to them – almost as if lolz weren’t part of the requirements anaysis, if you can believe that.

I’d like to be able to look at the custody record of a prisoner and click ‘Like’ on his ‘reply to caution’. A threaded ‘occurrence’ log would encourage people to keep it updated as well, and provide a good right-to-reply for the often-maligned forensic folk: “You had the report weeks ago, dickhead – stop blaming us” “whoops sorry, it was under my desk lol”. Custody photos could be livened up with an icanhascheezburger style ‘lolprisoner’ generator, and a B3ta-like (link can be NSFW) Photoshop Challenge based on scene photos would makes Fridays fun again.

Individual users could have their own profile page, status updates (‘Bob is working on job 540/10 booo, I hate the scat jobs lol’) and amusing photos from work nights out. Maybe we could incorporate a ‘friends’ system too, so that you could follow the activities of people that you work or hang out with. Why not take it the whole hog and integrate the crime management systems with Facebook Connect? I’m sure that those whores at Facebook would welcome the chance to sell advertising based on the data, and the Police is such a sociable and friendly place to work (think of it as being like an episode of The Inbetweeners – warning: foul language and very rude jokes), that this is sure to be a hit…especially if we add an internal dating element to it. This could tie in with duty calendars, so that officers could add ‘Cover if wife phones’ flags to certain times or days. There seem to be big retirement parties every week now, so I think an internal social network would be well-used – and if it was integrated into the crime-management and intelligence systems, all the better. Particularly as we’re all going to be out of a job soon, as we’re going to need some way to keep in touch with each other.

OK, so they’re my ideas. The way things have going recently y’all seem to be writing better Monkey posts in the comments than I do in the blog, so let’s ‘ave em.