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

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Watching and enjoying the BBC Archive Trial

As I never tire from saying, I am huge fan of the BBC. Therefore I was pleased to note last week that they were trialling access to their archive, and unlike previous trials, I was quick enough off the mark to get accepted as part of the trial. This morning my password arrived.



Currently the archive provides streaming access to 781 programmes, 488 television programmes and 293 radio programmes, with the promise of more being added all the time. Whilst the streaming quality is not as good as the iPlayer video, it will no doubt placate the ISPs and Apple users who have been complaining about the iPlayer.

Whilst 781 programmes is a drop in the ocean that is the BBC archive, it is nonetheless a very broad selection of programmes, and is likely to appeal to vast swathes of the public. From those who wish to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane, to researchers who are interested in the changing attitudes of the British public.

The only annoying aspect is that there are generally one or two episodes of any particular programme, whilst this is likely to change in the future as more programmes are added, that's not much solace for someone who has just watched the first episode of The History Man, and is waiting for part two! But who couldn't be forgiving with a 1970 episode of the Basil Brush show to look forward to?

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Sunday, 26 August 2007

Facebook friend policy

There have been many blogs posted on the difficulties in deciding whether to add someone as a Facebook friend, whilst these have primarily focused on the difficulties of having personal friends and work colleagues viewing the same information, Shel Israel discusses how he makes decisions on adding those people he doesn't know. Whilst it is obviously necessary for a well known blogger such as Shel to formulate a policy to separate the wheat from the chaff, I think he misses an important factor within his policy: Whether or not he is willing to accept the responsibility that comes with accepting a Facebook friend.

Whilst it is not unknown for many of the prominent Facebookers to accept all the friendships that are requested, it is less likely that they will respond to all the comments that are either placed on their wall or sent to their inbox. It is at this point that the status of Facebook friend becomes meaningless. Personally my criteria for a Facebook friend is, 'If they contact me, will I reply', obviously this is a personal boundary, and would depend a lot on how busy a person is and how many Facebook requests they are likely to get, but if everyone kept to this criteria, then the social network would have meaning.

Obviously the boundaries of what you can reply to will change over time as more people join the network, and it would seem to be very rude to de-friend someone who has done nothing wrong, so a little foresight is also necessary.

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Thursday, 23 August 2007

Waiting for promises to become reality: Where is my Windows Live Services?

I am probably the most impatient person I know; rather than waiting for things, I want instant gratification...supposedly one of the traits of criminals...anyway, as I am constantly trying to keep up to date with the latest technological news I often have a long wait for the news to become reality. How many months was I waiting for the BBC iPlayer? For a Popfly invite? I hate it. But the worst occasions are when they say the service will be available 'today' and its not.

My current annoyance is at Nokia and Microsoft. Where is my promised Windows Live Services?? This is what I have been waiting for ever since I got my N95 (although last week I would have claimed to be waiting for mobile video...and the week before internet access), and despite being promised it will be available in the UK through the Nokia Download! application, its not appearing on my phone!

Personally I wish there was less talk about what will be available in the future, and more talk about what is available now...and actually make it available now!

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UK's Office of Communications Market Report

The Office of Communications has just released its annual report on the trends and developments in the UK's communications market. The trends that hit the headlines are the rise of the web browsing and use of mobile phones, and the falling off of the traditional television, radio and landline, but at 337 pages the report contains a wealth of detailed pieces of information of interest.

So, starting with the healines:
-UK has the most active online population in Europe with users averaging 34.4 hrs online per month, with 56% of users accessing the internet every day.
-Women spend more time online than men, and this time is spent shopping and on social network sites.

Unfortunately it would seem that the although the UK users are online a lot, this is not being reflected in a major web presence amongst the most popular web sites, with only the BBC and runescape.com making the top ten web sites by time spent online. The others were all the usual contenders from the US. The top 10: ebay, bebo, BBC google, myspace, MSN, yahoo, youtube, facebook, runescape. Until I read (skimmed) this report I had never heard of runescape despite all my online hours (I am far closer to 34.4 hours a day that 34.4 hours a month). Its high position has a lot to do with a relative small number of users being online for long periods of time; whereas the BBC has 11.7 million unique visitors in the UK, runescape has 0.7 million.

Whilst the report highlights the rise in the use of ICT, it is also interesting to note that there is by no means universal access to these technologies in the UK. Could I really cope with living in one of the areas in the UK where not only couldn't I use a 3G phone, but I couldn't get 2G, or digital tv, or digital radio, or broad band. Whilst a lot of this is likely to be for geographical and population density reasons, it would be interesting to know the effect it is thought to have on the economy within these areas.

Whilst the report is packed with information about the communications sector, it doesn't yet give details of mobile television usage (which I would have been interested in), although I would expect it appear in next year's report. Nonetheless well worth a look.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Tafiti search engine launches...and I like it

Microsoft have just launched a new search engine using their Silverlight technology. Taking advantage of their Wondows Live ID users can drag results from the search engine off to one side where they can be tagged and returned to at a later date.

Whilst the general feel of the search engine is nice, there are a few oddities, such as the tree view:


..and other bits which take a while to get used to, such as rather than 'more' taking you to another page of search results, the search results are added to the bottom of the page.

Rather than its primary purpose being a new search engine, it seems to be to promote Silverlight, nonetheless I like it, and will try to use it on those occasions I remember to stop typing "google".

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I don't want to email from Facebook!

News that Facebook is integrating email into its messenger service seems to be have been met with general approval. Whilst there are a few criticisms, these have been levelled at the current level of functionality rather than the notion of Facebook incorporating email. Personally I do not want to have all the internet services I use to be in the one place: it encourages vast power in the hands of a decreasing number of major players; it potentially stifles innovation; and it causes lock-in.

Power of access to information in a few hands should not be considered a good thing, especially when they are commercial organisations whose primary motive is profit: 'Do no evil" very quickly becomes "Be seen to do no evil".

When we are locked into one of the major web organisation we can find ourselves 'forced' to sign up to ever increasing numbers of their services, primarily for the sake of ease, but potentially due to necessity. I have found this increasingly noticeable with Google, although I am sure that the other major search engines are equally culpable. A few months ago I wanted to add a profile picture to my other blog, but whilst Google's blogger allowed pictures to be uploaded to the blog entries, profile pictures had to be hosted somewhere else....unsurprisingly it offered to host them using Google's photo subsidiary Picasa if you downloaded the software.

Facebook is very quickly becoming one of the major internet powers, and as it is integrating more than any organisation before we may soon find ourselves locked into the most powerful organisation ever. As people migrate from the World Wide Web to Facebook we find ourselves walking blindly from an open net that people have fought to keep free of government interference to a closed service in the hands of a rather odd 23 year old.

Personally I will continue using Facebook, but only as a social networking site.

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Sunday, 19 August 2007

Watching Sky Sports on my Nokia N95

Whilst I probably didn't need to be able to watch television on my mobile phone, I can. As such I was tempted to sign up to Sky's news and sports package for £5 per month. There is no obligation to sign up for any particular length of time, so I thought I would give it a month's trial...and I must admit to being tempted to keep it for even longer. After signing up on Friday, I was given my first opportunity to try it out properly on Saturday as England played France in the world cup warm up.

I don't have Sky television and can't imagine the circumstances under which I would subscribe as I don't have time the time or inclination to get my money's worth. Nonetheless there are occasions when there are games that I would like to watch: the cricket internationals, the odd premiership fixture, and the occasional game from the championship...and last night's rugby match. As it coincided with the need for someone to cook the dinner I magnanimously offered, and set about cooking whilst watching the rugby on my N95, placing the phone in a half-pint glass for want of a better mobile cradle.

The picture quality is ok, although I found it to be occasionally interrupted through the loss of signal or the need to have a moment of buffering...but this was only once or twice in the whole of the rugby match. The big issue with watching television on an N95, and a big issue with the N95 generally, is the battery life. Unfortunately I found that it wasn't quite long enough to allow me to watch the whole of a rugby match, and it needed to be plugged in for the last ten minutes or so. This is obviously likely to cause annoyance if you don't have a plug for the last few minutes of an exciting game that you have watched 90% of, it also raises doubts about its suitability for watching a 5 day cricket match.

Despite the battery problems I will probably keep the Sky Sports television package. Using it when I am out and about to get news and sports updates, and when I am at home to watch the odd game whilst doing something else at the same time...taking advantage of the phone's ability to output the screen and sound through a traditional television. What it lacks in picture quality is made up for in accessibility and portability and price, but rather than thinking of it as television it is probably best think of it as radio with pictures. For those occasions you would want to watch a match properly (for example, when the great Norwich City are playing) then make sure you are in front of a traditional satellite tv, but when its a game that you would happily listen to on the radio, you will probably enjoy the event on the N95 a little bit more.

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Friday, 17 August 2007

Is the world Facebook crazy?

The big news of today is that the Facebook application 'Where I've Been', has been bought by TripAdvisor for $3 million. Whilst I wouldn't say that TripAdvisor had bagged a bargain, it may be a rather shrewd investment.

At the time of buying 'Where I've Been' it was reported as being embedded on 2.3 million users pages, approximately $1.30 per user. Whilst this may sound a lot, if it translates into 2.3 million permanent adverts for TripAdvisor it suddenly doesn't seem so outrageous. This is in addition to the press coverage the acquisition is likely to attract. It should also be remembered that Facebook is not a static network, but rather is growing at a phenomenal rate and the application is likely to be embedded on many more pages in the weeks to come.

Those early applications that have created enough of a buzz are likely to see a host of established companies swooping in to buy them up, which in turn will increase the number of Facebook users and applications as everyone wants a bit of the action. If networks such as Bebo and MySpace don't want to fall out of the race they need to open up their platforms and hope for some big buy-outs to get the public interest in their sites.

The big question is, can TripAdvisor successfully use the application to drive people to their web site without compromising the original application?

UPDATED: And then it is all change on the rumour mill, with the takeover being denied. Nonetheless I still don't think it will be long before many of these applications are being picked up for silly money.

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Thursday, 16 August 2007

BBC's Social Bookmarking Links

Two BBC posts in one morning may lead any readers that stumble across these posts by accident to believe that this is a blog all about the BBC, its not ... although if you cut me I do bleed red, white, blue and BBC radio 4. However after writing the previous post I dipped my toe in the blogosphere to see what others were saying about the BBC's iPlayer and came across a post describing social bookmarking links, new to the BBC, as a "stain on the Internet". So, should these bookmarking links have a place on the internet? And more specifically, should they have a place on the BBC?

Social bookmarking has a lot of potential, although there are without doubt major pitfalls. Many of the stories that gain credence on sites such as Digg and Reddit seem to be those which appeal to, for want of a better term, techno-liberal-survivalists. Whilst the technological aspect of many of the postings is unsurprising, the hardcore group that do a lot of the postings, and get their postings on the front page, should not be considered a cross-section of the population. Watching the popular posts for any period of time produces an almost contradictory image of the social bookmarking community, whereas on the one hand they believe in a liberal agenda regarding freedom from copyright and the right of the individual to do what they like, on the other hand they also seem to lap up any old survivalist right-wing conspiracy theory.

Maybe the introduction of social bookmarking links on sites such as the BBC will enable a broader cross-section of society to join the social bookmarking community, make authoritative stories more prominent on social bookmarking sites, and allow the social bookmarking sites to produce a more rounded view of society. Alternatively the BBC may just be introducing naive web users to some rather dodgy stories with little authority. Unfortunately I feel that it will be the later. What is really needed in conjunction with the promotion of these sites is a push on educating the public in assessing the worth of information that is found on the web.

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BBC iPlayer has changed my life!

There is a lot of talk at the moment about the BBC iPlayer in both the blogosphere and the traditional media, with arguments raging about the suitability of the P2P technology, the fact that it only runs on Windows, and that it is gobbling huge amounts of bandwidth. In my opinion the entry of the iPlayer can only be a good thing for British broadband users: it will increase uptake of high speed internet connections, and force the ISPs to provide better services to meet the increased demand.

Whilst the iPlayer is not the first of the main UK television companies to make their content available online, the BBC's world renowned brand means that when it makes a move more people pay attention; even within the UK's vast collection of television channels, and despite its public self-flagellation for minor indiscretions, the BBC is still an important institution that the public feels they have a vested interest in. It is not surprising therefore that the wrath of the ISPs is being vented at the BBC's entry into the market, an entry that is likely to substantially increase the number of people using the internet for video-on-demand. But does the BBC really deserve to be the focus of their attention? Or should the ISPs really be living up to the promises they make in the packages they offer and stop whinging about it?

The ISPs make a lot of money by offering high broadband speeds and the promise of 'unlimited' downloads by relying on the fact that the majority of their customers will never utilise the high speeds or the unlimited downloads. Those that have been getting the best value for money are those who have already been using video-on-demand from less legitimate sources, and their broadband has been subsidised by those of us who have been biding our time for the legitimate sources to appear. The introduction of legitimate video-on-demand was seen to be coming for a long time, especially the BBC's iPlayer which had to jump through a million hoops to prove that it was in the public interest, and nonetheless the ISPs continued to offer 'unlimited' downloads with the caveat of a fair use policy. Well surely downloading from legitimate sources should be considered fair use, after all that is what the average user will expect to be able to use it for.

The iPlayer and other high quality video-on-demand web sites creates a market of users wanting higher broadband rates than before, and they are probably willing to pay a bit more for it. But if an ISP offers 'unlimited' it should be unlimited, and if they do include 'fair use' policy then it needs to accept that video-on-demand is fair use. The showdown between the ISPs and the BBC will force the ISPs to upgrade their services, and hopefully provide the UK with the best internet infrastructure in the world. Personally, the majority of television I watch is now online, after all they don't broadcast the likes of "The Sky at Night" at 6.30 in the morning, and if my ISP decides that I am in breach of their 'fair use' policy I would move to a new ISP without a second thought.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Total social-networking is for the young!

I like to think that I am an advocate of many of the so-called Web 2.0 technologies: I blog; I am a member of a number of social networks; and I don't consider my day to have properly started until I have trawled through my hundreds of feeds on Bloglines. Whilst I have to admit I am not a great Twitterer, and my status on Facebook has been known to fall silent before I change it, I can at least see how they are useful additions to the lives of many more socialable people.

Sometimes however something appears that I just don't get, and I find myself asking "why would anyone want to do it?". Today such a Facebook application came to my attention , One Minute Friend. The premise is that it connects people who want to talk about similar topics on the phone for one minute for free, after which point you are disconnected, with the choice of being reconnected if both parties request it.

Whilst I understand people wanting to talk to someone they have met online, I would presume there they want a certain amount of communication before they get to that point...at least one or two lines by way of an introduction rather than being dropped in at the deep end. This at least gives an opportunity for the would-be chatter to determine whether the person at the other end is a nutter. But I guess this is an age thing, whilst those over a certain age may have mastered the technology, and adapted to certain aspects of the lifestyle, we are not necessarily as comfortable with the social aspect as those who have never known anything different.

I wouldn't be surprised however to find that if this application is successful, which it probably will be (the masses never cease to amaze), that there will be court cases further down the line as people take little heed of the risks and connect with numerous unsavoury characters. Luckily for me it's only available in Canada and the US, so I can always claim that my refusal to use it is not just an age thing.

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Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Starting to blog as the blogosphere starts to die?

There is a lot of talk around at the moment about the death of blogging in favour of shinier newer things. As such it may be thought to be a bit of a strange time to start a blog, especially one which primarily posts thoughts about those newer shinier things. It is my belief however that the blogosphere is far from dead, and if anything it may benefit from the exodus of certain parties who add little more to the blogosphere than an insight into their own personal lives. That is not to say that such blogs are bad, but rather the blogosphere will not overly suffer as a result as their departure...would anyone really miss the occassional updates about my long-suffering allotment?

Social-networking and micro-blogging may compete for the time of the blogger, but their uses are fundamentally different and the blog is likely to continue to hold a place for more extended (and discerning?) discourse. At the moment there is little room in social networking sites for the inclusion of extensive well thought out arguements, and their inclusion is likely to be skipped over in favour of pithy one-liners. Even more importantly the blogosphere is a far more open platform for discussion; it means nothing to me if there is an important discussion on a subject close to my heart if it is on a network I am not a member of. For the forseeable future at least, the blog still has an important role, and as I want to start my commentary now it is the natural place for me to start.

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