The thoughts of a web 2.0 research fellow on all things in the technological sphere that capture his interest.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Webometric Thoughts: For the more discerning webometrician

In the small field of webometrics there are few blogs, but after finding the blog readability test (via Halavais), I have discovered that mine is the more mature of three I follow (or is it just that mine is more incomprehensible??).

Thelwall's rarely updated Webometrics:

Holmberg's original

Whereas Webometric Thoughts comes in with a relatively respectable:

Maybe quantitative methodologies do have a few limitations.

Nb. Holmberg's latest blog incarnation receives a more respectable 'junior high school' ranking, but I live with the expectation that future posts will drag it back down :-).

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Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Are Mashable's standards slipping?

I have subscribed to the Mashable feed for quite a while now, but lately I feel as though there has been a downturn in the quality of the posts. Surely today's "Kevin Rose: Mobile Web is the Next Big Thing" is a particularly low point. If someone had said that mobile web would be the next big thing in the pre-WAP days it would have been a novel proposition worthy of note, but now?

The mobile web has finally reached user's expectations, and as such it seems a bit late to describe it as the 'next big thing'. My hope for the mobile web is that there will be a new group of innovators that will be wise enough to ignore their own press. The factor that differentiates between the most successful and the rest of us is less to do with ability and more to do with, for want of a better term, luck.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Google gDisk

Google plans a remote storage service...

Am I the only person who deliberately avoids many of Google's services, however good they are, in an attempt to temper the beast's power?

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Single on-demand player for BBC, ITV and Channel 4!!!

The BBC's iPlayer, Channel 4's 4OD, and the streaming content from have fundamentally changed my TV habits; about the only programme I now watch when broadcast is 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip' (available from 4OD, but for a price). Unfortunately however the iPlayer and 4OD don't work perfectly, with the iPlayer being especially erratic (occassionally having a frenzy that eats up all the processing power), and the two downloaded services often rub each other up the wrong way as they use similar technologies. Hopefully a single player will solve many of the current problems and will increase adoption of video on-demand.

Whilst a Mashable posting has a little bit of a whinge about the use of DRM, compatibility, and UK only access, it seems be missing the bigger picture, as TechCrunch states "Ultimately the biggest winner from the deal will be the British viewer who will have unparalleled access to legal TV content online in the one spot."

DRM is a necessity in the world of broadcast television, as is the restricting of access on a national basis, overcoming these boundaries are years away and will require unprecedented international cooperation (DRM-free music is a piece of cake in comparison). Compatibility will come with time, but it makes sense to start with the dominant system.

I did notice one comment on the TechCrunch site whinging about the BBC TV licence (and I am sure there will be more to come), so in the interests of keeping the balance, I would like to point out that I would willingly pay an increase in the TV licence!

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Monday, 26 November 2007

UK limited to receiving 250 twittering texts

I was shocked when I first read that Americans pay to receive texts the other week, although it has helped to explain why there have been many US-based sites for sending texts from the web, and few based in the UK. It is claimed that because of this Twitter is reducing the number of SMS messages that are Twittered to your phone to 250 in the.

However, whilst it is not the norm in the UK, it is possible to subscribe to certain services that will charge you every time you receive a text at a higher rate(e.g., certain news and horoscope services). Rather than limiting the Twitter service to a fixed number it would be better if you could get the first 250 free, and then if you wanted you could allow messages from a specific sub-set of feeds to continue being sent at a premium rate. Whilst you may not be willing to get the headlines from the Beeb at 25p a shot, you may happily pay to find out what your mates are up to.

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Freedom of Speech

I have never particularly been a fan of absolute freedom of speech, I believe that too often such a policy provides a platform for the more disgusting elements of society (Oxford Union hang your head in shame) and we need to impose certain limitations. Whilst most people would agree with certain limitations, for these limitations to be acceptable they have to be the limitations we impose.

Few complain about the deletion of hardcore pornography or racist hate speeches from YouTube, and any who do defend such rights are idiots, but these values are based on what is acceptable behaviour in the West. Other cultures have different values and ideas of acceptable behaviour, most more conservative, but some potentially more liberal. Is it any more acceptable for us impose our values, than for a more liberal society to impose their values on us?

Mashable draws attention to the 'hypocritical' YouTube censorship in Taiwan, but when we accept such censorship in the West we should be careful about who we call hypocritical.

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Friday, 23 November 2007

National internet archives have a long way to go

Archiving the web is massive job, and whilst the Internet Archive does as good a job as can be expected from a single centralised organisation, there really is a need for better national web archives. I am brought to the beginnings of a little rant by ResourceShelf highlighting Canada's new government web archives. Whilst I am sure that this will do a great job of archiving the Canadian government's web sites, it is a drop in the ocean of the number of Canadian web sites that could and should be kept, and seems an awfully long time coming.

However the British really don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about archives, as our own archive is a particularly sorry affair, based on the crawls of less that 3,000 web sites. Rather than following the route of the Canadian web site and covering a particular domain exhaustively, it chooses instead to select various sites (with permissions of web owners) of interest to the consortium members. As they say themselves "there is a danger that invaluable scholarly, cultural and scientific resources will be lost to future generations", personally I feel these archives do little to stop the vast majority of resources being lost.

We wouldn't accept a national library that contains such a pitiful selection of books, but somehow we allow such pathetic web archives to continue. In the UK I would like to see:
-The British Library given the right to copy every web page, in the same way as it has the right to a copy of every book (there should be no need to ask for permission and selection misses too much).
-It should be provided with the expertise and money to archive the whole of the .uk domain.
-If necessary, to appease those who confuse the public world of the web with the private mutterings of a conversation and thoughts of a diary, it should allow pages to (on request) be deep-archived* for a period of time rather than permanently deleted.

Whilst I am sure that institutions such as the British Library are trying to improve the UK's web archive, the current outputs seem remarkably underwhelming for a supposedly rich nation at the forefront of the world's knowledge-economy.

*deep-archived...I couldn't think of a term to describe something that was in the archive but not public, private seems to have different connotations.

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4G Surf - The Eee PC that stops you looking like a girl

Engadget note that there is now an even cheaper version of the Eee PC available, with a smaller battery and without a web cam. Whilst they note that this new version is only available in black, for someone who is constantly getting the sort of looks that suggest I have just stolen some child's toy I think this is a blessing.

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Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Electric Etiquette

Whilst laptops allow you to work on the move in numerous different locations, not all laptops are created equal, and whilst the RM minibook (aka the Eee PC) allows for the most mobile of movement, it doesn't have the greatest battery (just two or three hours). So once my battery is dead, or on its way out, can I syphon off electricity from the premises I am in? Rather than a one rule fits all situation, it seems to depend on numerous different factors: the role of the premises; whether it offers wifi; whether the wifi is free; and whether the plugs are easily accessible.

Whilst certain public institutions such as some public and university libraries actively make plugs easily accessible, thus encouraging laptop use, others have made no such accommodation, just having one or two scattered around the walls as if the laptop revolution had never occurred. But what about those places where they are aware of users laptop needs, where they advertise their wifi access as a selling point? If I am paying to access wifi in Starbucks can I plug-in? But what about if I am in one of the increasing number of places that offer free wifi? Do I have the same rights?

As always rights come with responsibilities, and laptop users have a responsibility to not cause accidents by trailing cables across gangways or play video or music without headphones, but do we always have to ask about our rights or can some be assumed?

In a climate where more and more places are offering free wifi, actively advertising the fact that the institution doesn't mind you using their plugs would be enough to persuade me to use one place over another. I would love to know if there had been some sort of survey of attitudes to electricity use.

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Monday, 19 November 2007

Why Kindle can bugger off:

Dedicated ebook readers have come and gone, although the buzz surrounding Kindle would seem to indicate that Amazon's forthcoming addition to the market is liable to make a bit of a splash. Whilst it may make certain inroads, we are a long way from the death of the traditional book, and personally I won't be buying a dedicated ebook reader anytime soon.

Dedicated ebook readers have always been a hard sell. By separating the content from the reader (the traditional book nicely packages the two together), the consumer has a large initial outlay with few additional benefits. Yes the Kindle can hold hundreds of books, and has a long battery life, but would I really want to be sitting in the bath with it? Or on the beach? Could I throw it across the room in frustration? Or spill coffee on it? Whilst the technology has improved, they are still struggling to create something that matches the durability of the traditional book.

"I've actually asked myself, 'Why do I love these physical objects?' " says Bezos. " 'Why do I love the smell of glue and ink?' The answer is that I associate that smell with all those worlds I have been transported to. What we love is the words and ideas."

I don't doubt that part of the reason people love the physical objects is the association with the words and ideas, but there is also the love of the book as an object. An object that can be passed from one person to another. An object that is forever associated with a particular time or place with the marks and bookmarks seemingly forever embedded in it. The web is filled with more words and ideas than my personal library ever will be, but whilst I would be annoyed at the loss of my computer or internet access, I would mourn the passing of my library.

There are similarities between the music industry and book industry but we should be careful in taking the comparisons too far. Within the music industry there has always been a separation between content and player, and whilst CDs offered an enhanced sound quality over vinyl, they were never particularly loved in the same way and their passing wasn't missed as much. Books are loved as physical objects.

There are without doubt occasions when an ebook reader will be of more use than the traditional book, but for the majority such occasions will be few and far between and the reader will be better served by their mobile phone or mini-laptop. Technology can bring advantaged to the book industry, but I much more eagerly await the appearance of high quality print-on-demand facilities in local bookshops than ebook readers.

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Friday, 16 November 2007

Hey!Nielsen: What is the point?

Whilst I enjoyed Nielsen Netrating's talk yesterday, I am less impressed with their latest offering, Hey!Nielsen, which I was pointed in the direction of by the Data Mining blog. Basically it combines a social network with the opportunity to offer opinions on TV, films, music, web sites and people, with the promise of your opinions potentially influencing the media world as the media pays close attention to Nielsen's findings.

Whilst it is a nice enough site, and offers the opportunity for a widget of your opinions to be placed on your blog or web site, its a bit of a one trick pony, and that trick is not interesting enough to make me come back again and again. Whilst I enjoy the opportunity to knock Facebook and Google, if I really want I can do it just as easily in my blog. Personally I think Nielsen would have been better off developing methods of gathering the data people are already placing all over the web rather than trying to make a subset enter data in their own specific format.

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Thursday, 15 November 2007

Facebook fatigue and Poke 1.0

In the heat of summer when I was an avid Facebook user, before the fatigue kicked in, I signed up for the Poke 1.0 conference, an afternoon conference on the topic of Facebook. I am pleased to say that despite my own fatigue with Facebook, the conference was definitely worth the train fare (and not just because the university paid for it).

For me personally the highlight (with just the one lecture still to go) was the initial (primarily quantitative) talk on the use of Facebook in the UK, basically according to Neilsen's Netratings whichever way you cut the cake its the UK's biggest social network. They provided many more details than is usually provided in the press releases of sites such as Compete and with the promise of slides and videos of the conference being placed on the London Knowledge Labs web site, it will be worth looking up.

Whilst the commercial speakers were giving quantitative details, the academics seem to be stuck with qualitative data. Stuck is probably a bit of a harsh term, after all qualitative is a recognised methodological choice. I do wonder however how much is choice and how much is the lack of access to the quantitative data. There seems to be a need for greater collaboration between different departments and between commercial organisations and academia.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2007

2 billion Flickr photos!

However much you may question the quality of many of the Flickr photos, and whether the vast majority of photos are worth the space they take up (however cheap it is), there is no getting away from the fact that 2 billion is massive number.

The 2 billionth photo sums up so much of Flickr's stuff, pleasant enough in a pseudo-arty fashion. Personally I would loved to have seen the 2 billionth photo to be a big fat man sitting in his pants with absolutely no artistic merit at all....but maybe it was and Flickr just juggled the figures a little bit for the momentous occasion...but who could blame them?


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Life's a bitch...and then you marry one

Usually coming across the above oft-used title would make me groan with despair at the state of modern society, but seeing it on the front page of the BBC is tantamount to having some great maiden aunt swearing at the christmas dinner table (the actual story is merely a diversion).


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Pay Facebook? The adverts are the sanest part.

AllFacebook have pointed to a Facebook poll which asked Facebook users the question:
Would you pay $3.99 a month to not ever see ads on Facebook?

Unsurprisingly 95% answered with a 'no'. Whilst there may be a bit of quibling about the suitability of the wording of the question, the result is far from surprising.

The average Facebook page is filled with rubbish, people throwing sheep, buying beers, being bitten by zombies (or werewolves or vampires), with the list of pointless applications growing on a daily basis. Scrolling amongst the rubbish the adverts are often a welcome moment of sanity, a welcome exit strategy from the turmoil of Facebook.

Anyway, even if you did pay for an ad-free Facebook, there would still be numerous ads included in the embedded applications. Only a fool would pay.


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Monday, 12 November 2007

TWiT: Are you kidding me?

I just read on Social Media that TWiT(This Week in Tech) have been awarded podcast of the year at the Weblog Awards.If this is truely the best podcast out there it is not surprising that Yahoo recently closed down their podcast directory. This is not to say that TWiT is not a good podcast, merely that even amongst the limited number of podcasts I listen to, it doesn't manage to stand head and shoulders above the others.

As I have previously mentioned, since getting an N95 I have had a renewed interest in podcasts as I can now download them directly to the device rather than having to mess about with the PC. Since then I have regularly listened to 4 technology-focused podcasts, as well as trying a fifth, and out of the five I would probably put TWiT at about number 3 or 4.

1. Digital Planet. Rather than a true podcast, this is one of the BBC's world service radio programmes that is made available as a podcast each week. Whereas most of the technological podcasts available focus very much on the western individual, or at least see the world from the perspective of the western individual, the Digital Planet team discusses technological stories with people all over the world; as likely to discuss GPS systems in some rainforest as the latest Apple innovation. A scope and quality unsurprisingly beyond the budget of the average podcast.
2. Crave. Unlike Digital Planet, Crave lives up to our expectations of a podcast: a bunch of people sitting around in a studio discussing what they are interested in, in this case technology and gadgets. Admittedly this is not a podcast for the po-faced with their decidedly teenage sense of humour (although they themselves are not teenagers), but they seeem to know enough to manage to persuade me to buy an RM minibook, a decision I am very happy with.
3. TWiT. TWiT is best summed up as a long (regularly over an hour) podcast involving a bunch of people showing varying degrees of righteous indignation at the week's technological news. Whilst the people involved in the discussion have strong views, and are by no means fools, on occassion I can find their technological-political views annoying, seemingly stuck somewhere around 2001, where Apple is the plucky little guy fighting the tyranical Microsoft, and Google really lives by the philosophy of 'do no evil'. To me the technological sphere has far more grey areas than this show acknowledges.
4. FrequencyCast. A monthly podcast on UK TV and technology. Very much a podcast for the UK resident, and unlikely to be of interest to anyone anywhere else. That however is not the reason it is number 4 on my list, that decision was based on the shows format of the technological geek constantly explaining things to the technophobe getting a bit tiresome after a while.
5. Mike Tech Show. Described as "Technology and computer podcast discussing cool sites, software, tips and tricks that will make you more productive at home and work." Maybe I caught a particularly boring episode, or maybe it caught me on an off day, but I only managed to listen to about 2 minutes before turning this one off. One that I should probably give another chance before placing it at the bottom of the pile.

I think it is more likely that TWiT's particular subject and brand of technological politics appealed to the particular voting audience, rather than TWiT having the podcast of the year. If I can think of better podcasts within the same field, then I am sure there are likely to be numerous better ones across different genres.

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Saturday, 10 November 2007

RM Minibook (a.k.a. Asus Eee PC) improvements suggestions

Engadget have posed the question "How would you change Asus' Eee PC?" Since getting my Minibook (a nicer term than Eee PC) on Tuesday I have given this subject a lot of thought, but in truth, in the spirit of a stripped-down basic mini-laptop the Minibook does a great job. A lot of the suggestions on Engadget reflect a wish for something other than a stripped-down basic mini-laptop.

The most popular suggestions seem to be giving it a bigger screen, faster processing chip, longer lasting battery and (unsurprisingly) making it even cheaper. Obviously all these additions would be welcome, but do seem to be moving away from the market the Minibook is aimed at (with the exception of the price), making it more expensive and probably larger. The one suggestion that I thought most lost the point of the Minibook was the addition of a DVD player/recorder! Personally that one was lost on me.

However there were some additional suggestions that I did like the idea of:TV out (the Wii has taught me that YouTube on the TV can be a much more sociable experience), and the introduction of a swivel screen (surely that would be both simple and useful).

As for my own suggestions, well, after a week I would have to say that the one thing I really miss is a physical volume control. The best thing about the Minibook is its portability. Which means I often find myself in crowded libraries or coffee bars only to realise I haven't turned the sound off when sound starts blasting out from a web page! A physical volume control is far quicker and more user friendly. But all in all, a great product.

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Friday, 9 November 2007

Reassessing my blogroll

The blogroll, the list of notable blogs that adorns the side of many blogs (including my own), can be a rather static affair. When I started this blog I merely placed a list of blogs I considered noteworthy down the side of the page, and left it at that; to the best of my memory I have not added any new blogs to the blogroll, and have taken no blogs off. In truth however I am regularly coming across new and interesting blogs, and have therefore decided to start emphasising the 'roll' part of the blogroll: adding new blogs that I come across to the top of the blogroll, and taking old ones away from the bottom, never having a blog roll of more than ten.

Limiting the length of the blogroll gives the opportunity for the more obscure blogs to stand out, and who really needs to be directed towards engadget or mashable anyway?

As such my blogroll now reflects an eclectic set of obscure sites and mainstream sites that I have only just started subscribing to.

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Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Web 5.0: Where we live on the web

Everyone seems to want to be the person to define a web number, first web 3.0 went, and now web 4.0 has gone:
If Web 2.0 is the rounded corners and the Internet as a platform, and Web 3.0 is seamless integration of the various tools built on the platform, Web 4.0 must be algorithmic incorporation of that data into something useful.

So I thought I would get in and define web 5.0:
Web 5.0 is when quantum computing provides us the opportunity to upload ourselves to the web rather than just our data.
Obviously there may be a few more technical stages before we can solve the planet's overcrowding problem by living in Second Life 2.0, but what is the point of having a decimal point if we don't use it? Dewey would be turning in his grave.

Whilst there will be those who say that people won't want to be uploaded, I think it is equally likely that there are people who don't want a fully integrated and documented life with every aspect detailed and tagged! Too often the blogosphere focuses on technological capabilities and how geeks would like to use the web, rather than how the mass want to use it.

Even if the web does develop in the way people predict, do these changes really necessitate new web numbers? If we accept that the move from web 1.0 to web 2.0 is a paradigm shift in the way many people view the web, then surely the introduction of the terms 'web 3.0' and 'web 4.0' require equally large changes in perception; the proposed definitions seem more like tinkering round the edges.

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RM Minibook: The extremely portable computer

Last week I crossed the line from being a normal person with a healthy interest in computers to a computer geek. This was based on two purchases:

1)A 'TV Box', basically £70 so I could plug my mobile phone into the computer monitor (for streaming sky sports).
2)The Eee PC (advertised as the RM minibook in the UK).

The Eee PC is not of itself very geeky, but it has only just come out, and I did find myself wanting it as soon as I heard about it. As yet you can't just walk into your local PC World and buy one, rather it is necessary to have it delivered, a fact made worse by having millions of Eee PC posts appearing in my RSS feeds over the weekend. All taunting me with "I've got one and yours hasn't arrived yet!" (e.g., engadget)

Previously I have never found myself particularly drawn to getting a laptop. They are usually either too large to make them useful for carrying around all the time, or very expensive. However, the size and price of the linux-based Eee PC blows away my previous objections, and after messing about with it yesterday I can say that it is a welcome addition to my growing family of computers.

It basically fulfills the average users laptop needs: Wi-fi enabled, web cam, microphone, Open Office, etc. Whilst you probably wouldn't want it as first computer, for a second one (or third) you can't go wrong.

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Thursday, 1 November 2007

Stupid Nokia Music Store

I have never previously had the urge to investigate the latest online music store, and I doubt whether the urge will arise again, it is therefore annoying to note that the experience was one of absolute failure.

The Nokia Music Store is now live in the UK, however it is quite picky about who it will talk to. I went to the url to find myself greeted with the message:

Nokia Music Store does not currently support your device. Further information about Nokia Music Store and compatible devices can be found at the Nseries web site.
You can access the Nokia Music Store from a PC using Internet Explorer

I wouldn't have minded except I was sitting at a PC using Internet Explorer! Unfortunately I am guessing that it means IE7 and I am only using IE6, Microsoft not letting me update due to the university continuing to run Windows 2000 on my work machine. At this point I turned to my trusty N95, only to find that it to was greeted with the same message. According to All About Symbian it only likes the N95 8GB or the N81, I didn't realise my phone had dated so quickly!

Having to wait always takes the shine off of things.

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