Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Event: Technology 2.0

A belated transcription of my notes from last Thursday's InSync event in London. Already there are flickrs up about it. So remiss!

In summary, a very enjoyable evening, one which I appreciated more than the last one as the topic actually dealt with innovations in technology rather than a nod to interaction amid a disproportionate amount of bumph about advertising.

Dave Green brought together a bunch of people who were at SxSW and eTech and asked them to re-present truncated versions of their talks for those of us unable (too lazy?) to go to America this year. Speakers included: Nic and Dom Ludlum from Promise.tv, Tom Armitage from New Statesman and Nature, Liz Turner (an information designer), Charles Armstrong from TrampolineSystems.com, Dan Catt from the recently flickr-acqured Geobloggers.com and Yoz Grahame from Ning. It was a full night.

From the beginning:
Nic and Dom Ludlum
The pair of brothers presented their 7-day streamingHDD-like video recorder. They argued that video recorders changed the consumption of television (time-shift control, alternative broadcast stream) while DVD and PVR were essentially an extension of taping. Freeview, on the other hand, was "arguably Greg Dyke's most stunning achievement," changing the model from being subscription-based to open access.

With their box, "you're in a time machine, in a video...You can go back to Tuesday". It records 18 channels for seven days (including radio), over 2,000 programmes. Yes, including all of the graveyard shift bumph that people don't watch anyway.

They tried to attempt an explanation about how this new tech might affect social viewing habits, but they briefly glossed over it, suggesting that what they'd created was "an impersonal video recorder". It would have an impact on viewing habits - we'd watch less TV, particularly less live TV, and because of the time shift, the quality of what we watch would go up.

Hmmm. Must Catch TV - but must we? I don't want to be a slave to the boob tube and prefer instead to drop out of that cultural morass in favour of other forms of - more interactive - entertainment.

I wanted to know how this would integrate with web content, as they proposed that most of the news we get in from radio. Eh? I get my news from the Web.

In future, they proposed that this machine would leverage social software concepts a la a network efect with freinds (share playlists, watchlists etc.).

For those who Must Have It, it will retail at about the same rate as a plasma tv. I don't care enough about what's on the telly to get it and don't want to be its slave.

Tom Armitage
"From Paddles to Pads" - computer game controllers and "why they suck".
Is controller design killing creativity in videogames?

Caveat - he's not a game designer or an interaction designer, but he's been playing games since year dot and is coming from a consumer's perspective.

He believes that the problem with gaming is that the software's too same-y. Particularly, a thing which is the same is the GUI - the controllers. Controllers make the assumption that you've used a joypad before and, consequently, you're a gamer. Once again, games designers are making games for gamers.
Why should the controls stop people from enjoying the games?

Bushnell - founder of Atari and creator of Pong - says "people are interface phobic". he likes the transparent interface.

Play is not foreign, the controller is.

But what about the incredible rise and rise of computer games? Well, removing population growth and double ownership from the latest statustics, Tom argues that the figure of 31-32% of homes with a console has remained stable since 1990 to the present day.
Games controllers are uninspiring to developers. We've pushed A to jump for nearly 20 years. He raises two games which have challenged the concept of control in recent years: Metroid Prime and Killer 7. These games (which incidentally I found extremely frustrating) muck around with the controller, so a new finger language is required to play them.

Furthermore, joypads are biased towards right-handedness.

These two areas form boundaries for game development.

Finally, GUI is often the last thing designed for - how can you develop a game and leave the interface to last?

Why can we not find the Uncanny Valley for interactivity?

Perhaps the problem is that game designers tend to be programmers, whereas interaction designers tend to be artists. Can the twain meet?
Lights at the end of the tunnel:
Nintendo Revolution
ARGs - play is pervasive: people use other technologies (mobile, bluetooth etc). The ARG is on the rise.

Liz Turner
Liz's presentation was a demo of her tool which takes tags from Harper's Weekly Review and reproduces them visually in a way which shows connections in news stories as covered by that particular site. She has created an interactive browser for linear timelines in Harper's coverage of world news. Of course, at the end there was much enthusiasm about where else it might be used...

Harper's has been a rich database of news in bitesize chunks since 2000. There are 600 keywords (and, therefore 600 timelines in Liz's tool).

Key Questions (this is the result of her MA): How do people experience the passing metadata? How do people experience that on a Cartesian scale/visualisation?
How do they experience that in iconography?

Answer: Tools must contribute to user experience.

Charles Armstrong
Charles is a "social antrhropologist turned technology entrepreneur".
Title: How a small island held tohe key to better collaborative filtering

Charles spent a year on the tiny island of St. Agnes doing an ethnographic case study of communication patterns amongst the 80 residents. Key interests: distributing, constructing and archiving information.

He noted how efficient an unspoken system was in getting news to relevant people with few wrongly-placed hits. The groups appeared to be authorisation mechanisms which govered how information was relayed. These groups pooled intelligence on who needs to know something and who's best placed to pass it on. They functioned as a target for relaying information. Each person and each group is identified with certain semantic "triggers" that activate relaying behaviour. "further away" two people are in a social network, the higher the threshold for relaying relevant information.

He turned this knowledge into technology for business applications, providing solutions for non-relevant guff (like collaborative scoring a la Digg and /.).

The tool take the message and
*indexes contents
*finds semantic trigger matches
*seeks authorisation
*evaluates the social network (filtering)
*notes recipient preferences (e.g., weekly, email)

I wonder if it could deal with live data - i.e., transcripts from synchronous chat.

Dan Catt
This presentation scared me. I don't want to think that I can be tracked vevery second of every day. And that all my new technology fun will be laced with GPS trackware...

Dan introduced (to me) the concept of GeoTagging, or, how to get location-based information into GeoRSS. So, for example, if you like only one part of Paris you can subscribe to podcasts from that area. You will not know about any other podacsts until that podcaster happens to pass through that area.

Why capture this inofmration? Adds context to time, allows you to relate to ther people, documents events, helps you to find keys (maps your desktop), and it's fun.

Another use: "loads of people took pictures at this point in time and in this GPS zone. Some thing interesting is happening/happened here".

More from the horse's mouth here.

Finally, Yoz
Yoz demo'd (and finally made sense of) Ning, "A springboard for New Social Software".

The screencast of Yoz's talk from eTech is here or here.

The idea is that it's "instant" social software, allowing non-developers the application and tools needed to create and share web apps (including add code). It's a kind of code sandbox. It's easy to clone apps you like.

He then whipped out a bunny rabbit thing called a Nabaztag which detects wireless networks, and can do funny things with its ears when prompted by Ning apps. Kat loved this.

More coverage from Tom Morris and Geoff Jones.

Monday, March 27, 2006

MMOGs on BBC Culture Shock (by me)

Quick! You've only one week to listen to BBC World Service's latest episode of Culture Shock, where I discuss the bizarre appeal of virtual worlds.

Who owns the [North American] Internet?

CIO will tell you:

This is a nice example of the cohesiveness principle of trends/ services/ products diffusion, mixed in with technological infrastructure constraints. AT&T and Verizon are the leaders at the minute, but there are distinct bubbles of resistance which - according to Latane's DSIT - exist because of consolidation, clustering, continuing diversity and correlation. In other words, the minority resistance (i.e., dots of colour that lie within the AT&T and Verizon sea) exists because the people who use alternative services have bandied together (unconsciously) and are protected by the illusion that they, and others around them, are in fact the majority.

Social Network Analysts would call it slightly differently, depending upon the approach.

A good case study.

via Valdis Krebs on the SOCNet listserv.

Salon: You are who you know

Missed this one (must have been head-deep in social networking literature when it was making its way around the 'sphere), but Salon has an article on the online social networking phenomenon dated 2004 which has caught my eye in all the right places.
...online social networks are God's gift to sociology. As late as the mid-'90s, notes Watts, sociologists who wanted to research social networks -- how people related to each other, who became friends with whom, how information traveled through a social network -- found their job very difficult. Information had to be gathered by hand, by passing out surveys, and the data was always suspect, because people might not answer truthfully, or even if they attempted to be truthful, might not be accurate. "A much better approach is to record what it is that people actually do, who they interact with and how they interact," writes Watts.

And that is exactly what an online social network enables. When we sign up on a social networking site, we are diving into the petri dish, and gladdening the heart of every scientist with a key to the lab. If the network can figure out what groups you are part of simply by the patterns of e-mail sent back and forth, imagine what it can learn when it knows every last bit of data you have input into a five-page profile, which might include everything from your favorite breed of dog, your sexual orientation and marital status, to your turn-ons, bedroom accessories, and tastes in music, movies and books?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Guardian wins Newspaper of the Year

Kudos to The Guardian for taking the Newspaper of the Year award at last night's British Press Awards.

From The G:
The Guardian was named newspaper of the year at the British Press Awards last night, six months after its historic change from broadsheet to Berliner format. The home secretary, Charles Clarke, presented the prize to the paper's editor, Alan Rusbridger, praising the Guardian for its new design and for its intelligent contribution to the British press.

Rusbridger said: "It was the most important year in the Guardian's recent history. In many respects it has been a lonely year, but I always had the conviction that one of the most important things about the British press is its variety and it would have been a dull old world if we had followed everyone else tabloid. This award celebrates something different, and that we have succeeded in our ambitions."

The Social Affordances of Email aren't so simple

Over on the Complexity and Social Networks Blog, Jeff Boase deconstructs what he means by the Social Affordances of Email ("the social opportunities and constraints provided by technology"), by recognising that his research is limited to North American email use/affordances, and to the technology with which users apply:
After [a presentation in Tokyo in which he] listed a number of email’s social affordances, one of the audience members pointed out that those affordances only apply to PC based email. By contrast, there exists a substantially different set of affordances for mobile phone based email. Given that my research is only about the use of email in America, my lack of attention to mobile phone email was intentional. There are not enough Americans using this technology for it to be relevant to my current research. Nevertheless, this comment got me thinking about the difficultly of making cross-national generalizations about the social uses of particular technologies. For example, even though the use of PC email is almost as common in Japan as it is in America, the wide-spread use of mobile phone email in Japan may change how the Japanese use PC email.

My recent co-authored report for the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that American’s use PC email for contacting both strong and weak(er) ties. By contrast, in another paper I find that the Japanese tend to use mobile phone email for contacting their strong ties, and PC email for contacting their weak ties (the paper published in Ito et. al 2005). This suggests that the existence of mobile phone email in Japan alters the use of PC email, even though PC email has the same set of affordances in both countries. I’m now thinking about how the unique combinations of communication technologies available to people in different countries effects their use of PC based email.

Boase's "The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism" is inthe Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 8, 3.

As an addendum to this, Erik Nisbet has written a paper on the current prevalent models of opinion leadership, which have emerged primarily from North America (The Engagement Model of Opinion Leadership: Testing Validity within a European Context). I haven't read the full text yet, but the relevant bit comes from the abstract thus:
This paper examines the ecological and constructive validity of the engagement model of the opinion leadership developed within the USA. Employing the European Social Survey, I apply this model to fifteen European nations to assess its validity and explore how media information-seeking behaviors of opinion leaders may vary across national contexts. The findings suggest that the model may be most valid in Western European nations. Furthermore, the media use and behaviors of opinion leaders vary greatly across nations in Europe, though levels of interpersonal political discussion and specific individual socio-psychological traits do not.

How Web 2.0 can help your business

I seem to be on a misson at the minute, to understand the relationship between blogging and big business. And as if by magic, I have come upon a gargantuan pile of work that people are applying in the (dare I say it) real world. Here's a great example: Seth Godin's published 3 versions of his new eBook, Flipping the Funnel, which explains in simple terms what Web 2.0 is (a megaphone), what kinds pf products are out there for use and how they can be used to "reach out to the fans" (del.icio.us, Flickr, Squidoo - for self-promotion) and what social software can do for you. Head to his blog for links to the three versions (one for marketers, one for politicians and one for NGOs).

A great quote from the marketer's paper:
What if you could figure out how to use the Internet to empower the people who like you, who respect you, who have a vested interest in your success? I call this group of people - your friends and prospects and customers who are willing to do this - your fan club.

A new set of online tools makes this approach not just a possibility, but also an imperative for any organization hoping to grow. Give your fanclub a megaphone and get out of the way.
And Godin's word of caution (also from the marketer's pdf):
Yes, you can edit the comments on your blog, but no, you shouldn't delete the negative ones. Get rid of the profanity, the anonymous heckling, and the juvenile, but if you're going to give your users a megaphone, you need to let them use it. If you don't, no one will bother reading.

This came to my via /patternHunter

Monday, March 20, 2006

eTech comes to London

For those of us who couldn't afford a ticket to San Diego for this year's Emerging Technologies Conference (boo hiss), Dave Green is bringing some of the speakers to a quiet location in London on Thursday 23 March to re-present their presentations. Details here.

In the rapidly-changing audio-visual sector, it's vital to keep abreast of the latest digital technologies. This evening event will give you some idea of the applications, hardware and and new ways of working that are just around the corner. This isn't a trade show, and there won't be any sales pitches. Instead, a number of experienced professionals will talk about what's getting them excited at the moment, and introduce you to key developments with the potential to dramatically change content production, distribution and business models in the years ahead. Presented by NTK in association with InSync.

Nick and Dominic Ludlam: Recording a Full 7 Days' Broadcasting With Promise.tv
Tom Armitage: Is Controller Design Killing Creativity in Videogames?
Yoz Grahame: The Ning Playground - A Springboard for New Social Software
Chair: Dave Green, co-editor, NTK.net

How big business barged in on the bloggers

As if to reiterate my earlier post, The G has an article today on the unsteady relationship between Big Business and Bloggers.
"The trick is not to try too hard to sell," says Hugh Macleod of gapingvoid.com. "You need to respect the people reading it, they're coming to you. Blogs are a great way to make things happen indirectly. It is different from creating a controlled mechanism that tries to change people's behaviour, which traditional advertising tries to do."
So says a PR guy. And it's true. Blogs are a great way of making things happen and, as the article later says, can humanize industries where PR cannot.

Transparency and legitimacy are key ingredients to social software, and undermining the former can seriously impact the latter.
Transparency is essential in navigating a wilderness where, according to tracker sites such as Technorati.com, there are more than 30m blogs and 2.1 billion links in cyberspace. Anything masquerading as genuine is soon rooted out, as household cleaner manufacturer Cillit Bang discovered to its cost last year. Websites began to get messages from Barry Scott, star of the company's TV commercials, but bloggers soon discovered that Scott was a fabrication and the messages had been sent by a marketing committee. Dr Pepper made a similar mistake in seeking legitimacy through blogging with its Raging Cow energy drink, labelled, unfortunately, as a "milk-based drink with attitude".
Yes, blogs are a threat to big business. Traditionally, they have exposed the "warts and all" factors which PR is meant to hide. So how do corporations get in with the kids by using the latest in interactive buzzword trends? As the article says, get in on the conversation. Bloggers have a responsibility to act in the interest of their readers, and demonstrate full disclosure.

Some great stats/quotes from the article:
The Edelman website has a trust barometer and for the first time we found that the most trusted sources were 'a person such as yourself or a peer'. World events have led to that and blogging has led to that.
A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that on any given day, posts involving a blogger interviewing someone else accounted for only 1% of the blogosphere. Only 5% involved some other original work.

Where I've been

I've only been to 12% of the world's countries. Time to pack up the bag and hit the road again.

create your own visited countries map

I've been to 74% of the US states. Neat!

create your own visited states map

Found on Raph's blog.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Event: What is e-Social Science?

Another Access grid seminar today, this one very much an advert for the National Centre for e-Social Science's products, which are strangely parallel to Tim Berners-Lee's. in fact, I wonder if they even know about one another. The main difference between the Access Grid/NCeSS and the Semantic Web is that the latter is free to access whereas the former is a gated proposition.

Anyway, Rob Proctor, Research Director of the NCeSS discussed e-Science, a globally connected, scholarly communit promoting the highest quality scientific research. The aim is to create a global infrastructure for global collaboration (thus my mental vision of its proximity with the SW). Within e-Science are all of the technologies which allow all scientists to collaborate in new ways, necessary because these tools help to make progress in new scientific directions.

The drivers of this programme are the movement towards multidisciplinarity and the data deluge (volumes of data which are unprecedented in research, which we must figure out in order to gain knowledge and understanding of social phenomena). Particularly in reference to the latter, the example he used was that The Bible is around 5MB of data, whereas an Internet Archive from 1996-2002 has 100 TBytes (a thousand million more times than 1 MB - wow, I'll have to start using another hyperbole from now on). That's a lot of data, and we need tools to help us with this deluge.

One example he gave was Discovery Net, which is a data mining and text mining tool. it gets through large amounts of data by looking for canditate ideas which can be modified and tested in new areas. It looks for connections no one's noted because there's too much data to get through. It represents a shift in research approaches, though, as it's data-driven rather than hypothesis-driven.

e-Science is multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, large-scale, data intensive (rather than hypothesis intensive - thus starting a "a different stage in research"), an computationally intensive.

It's all connected through "The Grid", an infrastructure which includes "not only [the use of others'] computers but also data storage resources and spcialised facilities" which may be proximally distant. It's software which is transparent and scaleable.

The Access Grid is an example of one of the grids used for e-Science. It allows distributed researchers to collaborate in virtual research environments in order to overcome the limitations of distance. There are other grids, including the computational grid (e.g., the National Grid Service for crunching and processing, like a distributed power source), a data grid (to generate and access heterogenous data) and a sensor grid (to aid in collaborative collection).

e-Social Science drivers include the movement towareds evidence-based policy making (to asnwer more challenging research questions), interdisciplinary collaboration, and the desire to make better use of existing and new data.

Essentially, we need to be able to exploit text and data mining techniques iin order to find new questions and integrations.

Key to future research through the NCeSS are applications of e-SS (i.e., investigating the use of the grid technologies for tackling substantive research problems, like multiple datasets which are complementary taken in collaboration, but alone have no real depth or bearing) and promoting interdisciplinary research.

So, like I said, an ad.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tim Berners-Lee on the Semantic Web

Just back from Oxford. What's up with drunk people on trains? Sheesh. One on the way up, one on the way down. How unpleasant. However, casting aside the negativity, I had the opportunity to see Web-Creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee discuss what he viewed as the Future of the Web in a special OII event. The Semantic Web. From what I gather, the key element of this new approach to filing technology online is People have URIs, not just webpages. So while the contemporary Web has addresses for content and data, the Semantic Web has addresses for documents and concepts.

The full presentation of his talk is here (currently forbidden). There is rumour that it will be webcast in the near future. Links to follow.

I also had the pleasure of having dinner afterwards with Ralph Schroeder.

Here are my (occasionally cryptic) notes:

Intro: Berners-Lee graduated from Oxford University in 1989. He invented the WWW while working at Cern. He developed it as a tool to help scientists collaborate. Also director of WWW Consortium. Senior Researcher at MIT CSAIL and Professor at Southampton. Wrote first web client and server in 1990.

This talk: The future of the web and the future of our thinking about it.
Building a web of data rather than a world of hypertext.

Philosophical engineering (When we take computers and networks and build things like the web, we have a tremendous medium where we can play God. We design the rules.)

The web is defined by simple protocols. What is more interesting is the gap between the macroscopic and the microscopic rules (blogosphere vs. computing). Emerging are new types of communication in society. Apply the system (i.e., all of us), then macroscopic phenomena occur. The connections between the elements in this process are more interesting.

Rules are social as well as technical. We can change social rules more easily. We need to reengineer social rules. The technology which is going to happen will need new social rules.


Email. Tech rules: store and forward, no trust infrastructure. Social rules: don’t bother people.

Email scaled really well until the same microscopic rules were run in a commercial environment. From academic to commercial. Now the email system is in a heap. People are giving up email and moving back to the telephone.

Web rules.

Technical: use the URIs (e.g., http) to anchor and document. Allows for hyperlinking.

Ladder of authority to interpret. (The web browser has the authority to interpret the URIs. It then looks at the http spec, goes to the registry, which goes to another registry, which points to another place, which points to MIME, which points to the html registry which says this is content, which is passed back to the user. Must keep the engineering structure there.

Must use standards (e.g., http, htnl, css, xml, etc)

Provides the infrastructure for what happens when you poke a computer.

Social Rules: You should provide useful stuff. URIs should actually link to what’s publicised.

Make useful links. (Google only works so well because it reads the carefully made network of links).

IP laws, fraud laws, libel laws. (E.g., saying that an email is from someone else is a lie and you can be liable, especially if earn money from it.)

Thank goodness for Google. It identifies vectors of links which identifies topics of human interest. If you look at those clusters and those vectors, you can find the important topics.

We’re not yet at the place where we can develop software as subtle as conversational systems.


Take web rules and add 2 more rules: simple editor (micro rules) and citizen’s responsibility (micro social). Macro – wikipedia.


Micro: trackback – the ability to make a blog point to other blogs which mention it.

Macro: the blogosphere.

Semantic web.

The rules for the Sematic Web (SW) are basically similar. Technical: use URIs for documents and concepts

People have URIs, not just webpages

It still has the same ladder of authority, standards (e.g., rdf)

Social: serve useful stuff, make useful stuff – serendipitous use. Put data out there for one purpose and find that it’s used for something never intended. Follow links through the data.

Share ontologies – make sure we’re all talking the same kind of meaningful language. Ontologies are published on the web, and you can find them.

Agree on ontologies. – surely this is difficult.?

Semantic web: everything has a URI.

Don’t say “colour”, say http://example.com...” Don’t say “hydrogen”. One click on “hydrogen” will lead you to everything out there on hydrogen.

Relational database – subject, property, value. Expressing knowledge about things rather than expressing knowledge about tables.

“The web is a graph. Life is a graph”

Communities and vocabularies.

A universal WWW must include communities on many scales.

Google Maps is like the semantic web.

The mainlines are concepts which are shared through relationships.

There are advantages to having local standards and advantages to having universal standards.

To cope with all of the data, we must build a fractal system – optimal for communicating across complicated networks. The W3 is aiming to build a fractal system. It’s reliant upon trust.

SW works at a conceptual level. We want to develop a unifying language to translate all of the others which people use to create and distribute content (e.g., urls, xml, rdf etc).

Why isn’t the semantic web going to have as fast an uptake as WWW? That spread in 5 years. Because it’s so difficult to describe what the world was like before the web, now it’s difficult to explain what the world will be like after the web - therefore the SW is a paradigm shift all over again.

The value of your bit depends on the value of what’s out there. This needs to be learned all over again.

Data is trickier, especially to design logic languages.

Need for smaller incubator population,

The web took off so quickly because the need was there. There was a group which needed international collaboration, had access to appropriate technology It was a small, enthusiastic group of people who had a problem, “a great Petri dish”. Potential incubator communities for SW are the life sciences and drug discovery communities. If they all work together, they will find cure for everything: “Get the genomics out there so we can all use it”. At the moment, genomics data is in the genomics department. Particle physics has its own server in another building. Never the twain meet. (e.g., clinical trial data). These people are bright and intelligent; early adopters with quite a lot of money.

Data is less exciting without a browser (less woo hoo about trading budgets than trading info about film).

Make your data browsable. There’s plenty of computer programmes which will do it for you with simple queries. They’ll do it automatically.

In New York after 9/11, the authorities used geospatial data to map the city, which flagged up a powerful tool to use in emergencies. We can do that now with friends and maps. The Semantic Web aims to expand Google Maps (by having access to data) so the limitations that plague the current application aren’t there.

There is a fear of having to make ontologies (total cost is actually finite and very small).

Convert your data to rdf and put it on the web!

The SW aims to make information as easy to consume and view as iTunes, iPhoto etc. in a tabular/database form.

Building new systems requires the knowledge of the social rules.

I'm pleased to see how intertwined the social and technical are.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Big business blogs will discredit social software

The NYT has an article today about big business PR companies employing bloggers to promote their brands. From the article:

It was the kind of pro-Wal-Mart comment the giant retailer might write itself. And, in fact, it did.

Several sentences in Mr. Pickrell's Jan. 20 posting — and others from different days — are identical to those written by an employee at one of Wal-Mart's public relations firms and distributed by e-mail to bloggers.

Hmmmmmm. This is dislike vehemently. It undermines the transparency which I personally believe is the bloggers credo. Publishing things fed by PR companies word-for-word and not disclosing the sources is an attempt to promote themselves as fonts of new and exclusive information rather than acting as a critical resource which challenges the decisions of such efforts.

I recently told a friend (employed by a multinational communications corporation) who is enthused about this new "social software" and keen to not be left behind in the apparent wave of uptake, that the decision of a company to use such media is one which should not be taken lightly. If these software devices are co-opted by PR and marketing folks, it will undermine the credibility of the whole phenomenon. It will turn it into a propagnada machine commoditized for the purposes of pushing products ONLY, rather than encouraging better business practices and interaction between consumer and creator.

Robin Hamman "is not offended" by this approach because he feels that it could be used to benefit grassroots and charitable organisations:
I don't find myself particularly offended by this approach, a technique I've long thought charities and grassroots political campaigners should do more of. The idea is to build relationships with friendly bloggers and feed them exclusive content, letting them use that content to build support for your cause, if not for your organisation, from the ground up. I'm thinking, for example, Amnesty making photos of an inhumane prison available to bloggers, or Greenpeace giving a blogger the opportunity to do a podcast from a anti-whaling operation.
The purpose of PRs is to get information out through the correct channels. The purpose of the critical journalist is to deconstruct this information and place it in context. If there is no disclosure about the source or if agendas are not presented up-front and are discovered later, the journalist is not doing his or her job and the action undermines the trust consumers have in the technology.

Technologists will go elsewhere and will seek out other sources which they deem appropriate to their ontology. The non-critical general public won't know the difference and may be turned off the technology all together.

Furthermore, as Sara at GU said the other evening over dinner, big businesses must be aware of what blogs and other social software technologies are there to do: to encourage interaction. How would big corporates feel about having negative news and opinions gracaing their own webpages/corporate blogs?

Tread carefully lest you step on poo.

Guardian gets love for its approach to online publishing

Robin Hamman from CyberSoc gives a big up to The G for how it's embraced interactivity, bringing 200 columnists and expert contributors (that's me!) into the fold. I have to say, I agree. Of course I would.


According to Journalism.co.uk, the Guardian has now recruited over 200 columnists and expert contributors for their "comment is free" project. The Guardian's Emily Bell recently told a conference of the Online Publishers Association that "One of the strongest resources of a journalistic brand is its commentators... The idea of giving commentators individual blogs was slightly worrying for all sorts of reasons, but this will be a collective voice for the kind of people we want to talk to."

A new word for Web 2.0

An article from CNN on the re-emergence of Silicon Valley's hype-o-meter, and the companies that will bring us there.

Driven by ubiquitous broadband, cheap hardware, and open-source software, the Web is mutating into a radically different beast than it has been. And that is leading to the creation of entirely new kinds of companies, new business models, and oceans of new opportunity.

We are in the early stages of what might be better thought of as the Next Net. The Next Net will encompass all digital devices, from PC to cell phone to television. Its defining characteristics include the ability to interact instantaneously with any of the more than 1 billion Web users across the globe -- not by, say, instant messaging, but by evolving instant-voice-messaging and instant-video-messaging apps that will make today's e-mail and IM seem crude.

The Next Net is deeply collaborative: People from across the planet can work together on the same task, and products or tools can be rapidly tweaked and improved by the collective wisdom of the entire online world.

Wow, what a great selection of companies to watch, including Digg, Bloglines, SixApart, Skype, Technorati and others.

Flash vid: Epic 2015

Doom and gloom 7 years hence thanks to Web 2.0, brought to us by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson.

What happens to the world when everyone contributes to an ever-changing media landscape, when traditional news organisations are a distant memory.

Great history of the landmarks in Web2.0 history.

The rise and rise of Googlezon. Well, it's better than The Handmaid's Tale.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Ubiquitous WiFi will transform society

Gosh, I'm looking forward to this. The BBC says that WiFi will change the way we interact and live. I agree. And at that point, my research will no longer be a novelty, but a huge asset in a world that will have come to terms with the relationship between offline and digital identity. From the article:

Dr Jo Twist, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said once the net was ubiquitous like power and water, it had the potential to be "transformative".

The divide that separates people from their online lives will utterly disappear. Instead of leaving behind all those net-based friends and activities when you walk out of your front door, you will be able to take them with you.

The buddies you have on instant message networks, friends and family on e-mail, your eBay auctions, your avatars in online games, the TV shows you have stored on disk, your digital pictures, your blog - everything will be just a click away.

Jo also talks empowerment, and the price of access - in both financial and privacy terms. Certainly the actual cost of access is a mega stumbling block. Removing the commoditisation of WiFi (i.e., T-Mobile's extortionate "HotSpots") would allow the power of connectivity to empower users who otherwise would not have such an outlet.

added 14 March: MIT Tech Review also has an interesting take on "Social Machines".

Without much hoopla, many conference centers and university and corporate campuses--even entire metropolises, in the case of Philadelphia and a few other cities--are being turned into giant Wi-Fi hot spots. Trains, planes, airports, and libraries are also installing wireless networks to serve customers carrying wireless gadgets. As a result, many businesspeople, students, and Starbucks addicts now expect cheap, easy access to the Internet as a matter of course. Losing it can feel like being stranded.
After a decade of hype about "mobility," personal computing has finally and irreversibly cut its bonds to the desktop and has moved into devices we can carry everywhere. We're using this newly portable computing power to connect with others in ways no one predicted--and we won't be easily parted from our new tools.

On the other hand, I went to a Social Psychology conference last year and was the only person with a laptop, and received some nasty looks from people around me as I attempted to work on my computer through sessions.

There's a real danger of pluralistic ignorance, assuming that everyone is doing what you're doing because if you only surround yourself with one type of person, you'll only know what that group is doing.

Ubiquitous connectivity is a way off, but for us technologists, it's extremely important.

Blogging killed the TV star

The NYT challenges a blogger's arguments that recent statistics matching consumers of the vlog Rocketboom and cable TV programme viewers are a harbinger to the death of television.

ONE recent week, the video blog Rocketboom drew an average of 200,000 people a day to watch its short daily news reports on technology, the arts and other topics.

"The Abrams Report" on MSNBC, meanwhile, drew 215,000 viewers to its weekday hourlong show about legal issues.

Does this anecdote — that an unpopular cable news show and a wildly popular Web site draw similarly sized audiences — prove that the Internet is upending the economics of the television business?

Case for the prosecution:

"American Idol" draws about 30 million viewers, that MSNBC is a cable, not a broadcast, network, and that, while the music business may be wounded, it is far from dead.
"Is reaching roughly the same audience that's around for 3 minutes as valuable as reaching an audience that watches" for an hour?

Case for the defence: (including the above)

A staff of two produces Rocketboom.com/vlog. "How many people do you think it takes to produce 'The Abrams Report' on MSNBC?"

Jury still out? Maybe, but I hasten to bet that blogs and other forms of citizen journalism have a looooong way to go before they're a force to be reckoned with. Sure that day will come, but it ain't now. Clever people (read, Early Adopters) in traditional media are getting in now and will reap the benefits later. They'll help to construct the interactive media landscape rather than simply consume it. Others will watch and wait, and will jump on the bandwagon later.

eBay gets in on community webspace Meetup.com

News from BusinessWeek reports that eBay has purchased a minority share in community outreach site Meetup.com. Great quote from an eBay spokesperson:

"You would never be able to separate the community from the commerce on eBay"

Are they feeling the burn from Craigslist? Do they want to go local now that they've been global?

FBI caution parents about social networking sites

This comes via BoingBoing - an FBI media release cautions parents about MySpace and other social networking sites frequented by teenagers. Apart from being rather badly worded hype designed to cause fear in the hearts and minds of the technologically ignorant (Dear God, what is Little Jimmy DOING on that computer?!), they have got a great definition of social networking sites:

These websites allow its members to customize their profiles with features including a forum for outside viewers to access photographs and details about the member, including physical attributes and personal information, as well as to access comments and thoughts posted by the member. Viewers of the member’s profile may also contact the member via e-mail or instant messenger, unless otherwise restricted.

The grammar is appalling.

Also of interest (and concern):

The FBI has successfully fostered relationships with willing companies that operate social networking sites in efforts to aid law enforcement in the detection of online sexual predators, in addition to establishing a partnership that will contribute to a safer online environment.

What are they doing? Monitoring what's going on online? Collecting information which can be used in a court of law? Distressing stuff, intended to assuage parental fears. If anything, it's made me more hot and bothered.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Presentation: Blogging for Academics

As the token techie in my immediate vicinity in the University, I took it upon myself to expose my fellow students to the wonderful world of social software. I love it so. Yes, so much that I talk about it incessantly (from BBC 2 documentaries [forthcoming] to Women's Hour, to The Guardian).

I gave the SPIES group a presentation yesterday on the joys of Blogging. By jove, I think they got it!

Covered the following in PP slides (forgot you can't upload docs to Blogger):
  • What is a weblog? (using quotes from the OED [password/subscription required], Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English [via Dictionary.com] and the old faithful Wikipedia.
  • Examples of weblogs (Group blogs: TerraNova (with comments), Boing Boing (no comments), Media@LSE Group weblog (one primary poster, David Brake); Solo blogs: Bruce Landon's Social Psychology weblog (for students, primarily links), my password-protected blog with categories, this blog)
  • What you can do with blogs: Write
    • Keep notes for yourself
    • Collect your formal thoughts
  • What you can do with blogs: File
    • Keep your thoughts in categories for easy recall
    • Keep your important documents in virtual form for peace of mind
    • Organise your links and journal articles in categories you select
    • Access it anywhere there's an internet connection!
  • What you can do with blogs: Resource collection
    • East to organise and add to
    • Keep links, articles and inspirational material in one place
    • Link out to places/people you wish to remember again
  • What you can do with blogs: Collaborate
    • a persistent, live, online forum for collaborators to collect their thoughts, resources and ideas
    • use blogrolls to your best advantage!
    • who's reading your blog? what do they know about your subject? maybe they'd be good partners for future research?
  • What you can do with blogs: Feedback
    • get comments and suggestions from readers
    • use comments as a stimulus for discussion
    • keep all responses in one place in categories you select for future reference
  • Security issues: password protection, taking the blog off the directory, don't tell anyone, turn off comments or turn them on for special people
  • Types of blogging software (TypePad, Blogger)
  • Demo: How to set up, post hyperlink, upload and generally manipulate your blog
Now there are at least three more blogs in the blogosphere, but don't expect to see them on the tops of blog league tables; no these bloggers will be password-protecting their thoughts and inspirations, and using the software as a digital organiser rather than an outreach.

I am rather proud of myself.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Events: Survey schemes at Surrey over the next few weeks

Hmmm, these look interesting:

The ESRC Survey Link Scheme has places still available for a workshop on Tuesday 28 March at Surrey. From the blurb:

The ESRC Survey Link Scheme, supported by the ESRC Training and Development Board, exists to give academic social scientists the opportunity to acquaint themselves with professional social survey research, carried out by the Office for National Statistics, the National Centre for Social Research and various market research companies. It thus provides a bridge between the academy and the practical worlds in which professional survey research is carried out.

Yes, please!

Two linked components are offered, each typically taking one day each:

  • attendance at a one-day workshop, which provides a briefing on a particular survey. The day includes an introduction to survey interviewing in the field, an introduction to CAPI – Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing — and guidance through the CAPI questionnaire of a particular survey by professional staff from the agency carrying out the fieldwork. These workshops are held at various locations throughout the UK
  • the opportunity to go out with a professional interviewer for one day, and observe a social survey interview in the field. This can be arranged close to where the scheme participant lives, and takes place after attendance at the workshop.

The other one method event happening at Surrey over the next few weeks is the ESRC Science Week Seminar on the Qb and other Online Survey Resources, which provides more of an overview than an in-depth lesson. It's a drop-in session on Monday 13 March between 2-3:30pm.

Its blurb:

This Open Afternoon session will provide participants with an introduction to the facilities offered by the ESRC Social Survey Question Bank on the World Wide Web and the ESRC Survey Link Scheme, as well as other online resources which can be used for Survey Research.

As well as a general introduction to the Qb site, participants will be shown a demonstration of how the Question Bank can be used to help during the planning process in both qualitative and quantitative research. Advice and hands-on practice will be given in navigating and searching the Question Bank using the search engine SmartlogikTM.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Event: Got the message? Advertising meets interactive design

At the suggestion of END, I attended an event on Thursday 2 March in SoHo as part of the InSync series (part brainchild of Dave Green, former Bits web-guy and friend of Alice). The title was marginally misleading; there was little interactivity discussed, more advertising and something called "The Big Idea". In that respect, it was disappointing, but it did introduce me to advertising procedures, practices, protocols and approaches. At the minute, "interactive design" means "a commercial that interrupts you when you're being interactive". Very narrow view.

One of the presenters, Nicolas Roope (co-founder and director of Poke), seemed either on the verge of getting it or completely got it but dumbed it down for an audience of primarily advertising types. He's been in the interactive market for a decade, so knows what the possibilities of Web 2.0 are. He mentioned MySpace etc., but offered no proposals for how to exploit this new avenue for advertising. Hmmm.

Here are the notes:

Intro (Nico Macdonald, Design Agenda and AIGA Experience Design)
Advertisers now need to deal with a fragmented and multi-channel audience filled with cynical and savvy consumers. To date, advertisers have used the approach that the promotion of products should all be the same.

Interactive design has historically been hindered because of problems with the channel of distribution - i.e., broadband and web browers haven't been up to scratch.

The topics that will be covered this evening include:
*Value of Big Ideas
*Reaching and Connecting with Audiences
*Moving between touch points (interactive platforms) by creating experiences which allow people to move between them.

Speaker 1: Nicolas Roope, co-founder and director, Poke; player with AntiRom interactive products (e.g., CDRoms in 1996)
Two key topics for this presentation:
*The web should be considered an emotional medium
*It closes the gap between promise and delivery

The drive for creatives is to try and capture the cinema moment.
MySpace is all about forming relationships [although it is USA-centred - Q: How make a uniquely British product?]
Social software creates as much emotion as the constructed medium of film.

How can advertisers exist in Web 2.0?
*engage, thrill, excite and inspire
*can't assume you've got a captive audience - and must have something to offer
*imitation only?

Example: the Global Rich List, giving users their personal position in the world, and then teaching a nice little lesson at the same time. It engages participation. Users didn't have to buy anything, they just puta nd idea out there to a captive audience and thrilled, etc. them.

It's about "starting a conversation".

Advertising is a promise. The web brings delivery closer - one click (e.g., clickthrus to charitable organisations, Amazon, etc.). Important here is the continuous experience, cornerstone'd on the brand. This builds confidence.

Constructed the BA reservation website, promoting transparency - "making that promise real". Consumers can see the company is making an effor at their cost, for the consumer.

Online users aren't forgiving [they trust as long as they feel they have control over their own content]

Speaker 2: Paul Banham, Creative Director, London Office, Agency.com
What the industry needs to do is make better ads.

[many examples of his own ads, most of which were those which interrupt users when they're already doing something online. i hate those, and try my damndest to ignore them]

The industry standard for click-thrus from banners to interactive advertising is 2-5%.

Speaker 3: Marc Shillum, Creative Director, plan-b (former creative director, Levi's account, Bartle Bogle Hegarty)
Can't rebrand a company - my mother's still my mother even if she changers her name.

The Big Idea is about storytelling, asking customers to tell you the story about what you are.

Dialogue must come later. Monologue is first, explaining the brand. Dialogue shouldn't be brought up at the beginning of a relationship because it won't work; it needs the monologue to tell the story.

[disagree - this speaker ignored interactive design, unless he thought "interactive" meant interacting with the consumer]

In the end, the emphasis in this evening was on advertising, the end product - not novel, interactivity approaches to diffusing a message. Massive should have been here.

More event details here. Next one Dave is curating. eTech speakers. Audio/Visual and interactive technology. Games. I'll be there.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

OECD: trust in online environments

Here's an interesting paper I missed earlier: it's the OECD's Scoping Study for the Measurement of Trust in the Online Environment. I last had occasion to think about the OECD when I wrote an article for MIT Technology Review on technology recycling. Actually, there were other instances, most recently at the OpenDemocracy.com Google talk.

From the intro:

Creating an online environment which builds on trust among users of ICT networks is an increasing priority for business, industry and governments and has been on the OECD agenda since the late 1990s. The aim of this report is to undertake a review of the data available from official, semi-official and private sources which can assist in informing developments and progress in this area. There is a need to be able to use relevant data to assess the effectiveness of public and private initiatives aimed at building trust among users.

Events: The Future of the Web

originally published on Social Simulation on 1 March 2006

Off to this Tuesday after next in Oxford, at the OII:

The Future of the Web

Date: 14 March 2006 17:00-18:30

Location: Martin Wood Lecture Theatre, Physics Department, Parks Road

Attendance: This event is open to the public and free of charge but all places must be reserved in advance. To check the availability of places please email your name and affiliation, if any, to events@oii.ox.ac.uk.

Speakers: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, Senior Researcher at MIT's CSAIL, and Professor of Computer Science at Southampton ECS.

This is an event of the e-Horizons Institute, organized by the Institute in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute, the Oxford e-Research Centre and the Electronics and Computer Science Department of the University of Southhampton. All the organizers are grateful to the British Computer Society for their sponsorship.

The inventor of the World Wide Web will provide his perspective on the history and future of this Internet-based hypermedia innovation that has enabled a transformation in the global information sharing of information. What’s next in the development of this new information and communication technology?

The OII do great research, including the Oxford Internet Survey: The Internet in Britain and the World Wide Web of Science.