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

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Eee PC 901 (XP) v. Eee PC 701 (Linux)

Finally, after weeks of waiting, my girlfriend's Eee PC 901 arrived this morning.

First impressions of the 901 are that it's very impressive; rather than a cheap budget laptop, it looks and feels like a small quality laptop.

Whereas the 701 seemed to be a good way of Linux spreading out to the masses, the 901 with Windows XP is likely to slow Linux's spread. Comparing the Eee 901 with my (rather aged) 701 finds that the 901 just about wins a boot-up contest.

Yes, the 701 has been around the block a bit, and the 901 Linux is likely to beat the 901 XP, but with the 901 XP booting in around 35 seconds, its seems likely that people will go for the operating system they are used to.

In conclusion, I want one.

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Browzmi: Social Browsing

Both the ReadWriteWeb and the Online Journalism Blog have posted about Browzmi, and it is definately a site worth posting about.

Basically you browse within the Browzmi web page, allowing you to see where your friends or everyone else is surfing. I have always liked the idea of collaborative surfing, and many years ago used to mess about with Chatsum which was more chat focused, however Chatsum never got the number of users necessary to really make it work. Hopefully Browzmi will as it a nice site which doesn't require any plugins.

...not much of a review, but get on there and try it yourself :-)

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When will join Virgin Catch Up TV?

Whilst having a look at the new Blinx Remote this morning (via The Guardian), I suddenly realised that I no longer watch ITV (with the exception of watching the over-paid tax-dodging Formula 1 drivers). Over the last couple of years my TV habits have changed beyond all recognition, and ITV has failed to keep pace.

First I started watching TV programmes online. Whilst 4OD and the iPlayer both offered downloads, ITV offered streaming which was not particularly practical as I started to suffer from my old ISP's throttling measures.

Then I subscribed to Virgin TV which has given me the iPlayer and 4OD programmes on my TV with Virgin's TV Catchup: Anytime with no download problems. Unfortunately ITV hasn't signed up, and despite my best efforts I couldn't find any indication online that they plan to.

Whilst I find myself streaming the BBC on my Eee PC whilst doing the cooking, catching up on the TV, and even watching live for those can't wait programmes (such as last night's Summer Heights High), ITV has been relegated to point where I don't even know what is on anymore.

Whilst I have never been a fan of ITV, it is important to have a competitive domestic market, so they need to start catching up!

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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Cuil: You can't out Google Google is the new search engine that, as ReadWriteWeb point out, got rather a lot of publicity for its launch. Its publicity seems to be based on the fact that it is run by some ex-Googlers, and that it makes some big claims about the size of the index. However, I seem to be missing the feature that will make it a Google killer.

Whilst wanting to be part of the next generation of search engines, it seems to be playing a rather old fashioned game by going for the simple interface and bragging about the size of their index.

Most search engines gave up index-bragging years ago. Beyond a certain number of pages the size of an index becomes quite meaningless for all but the most obscure of queries. If anything a larger index may hamper the results as more low quality pages will be included. It is best to focus on a quality crawl rather than the biggest possible crawl.

Whilst the public love a simple interface (they are simple creatures), it brings nothing new to the market. Whatever way you try to rank the data, whether PageRank or BrowseRank, there is only so much you can do with a simple keyword search: people will continue to use homographs and fail to use appropriate search terms.

Whilst you can only really tell how good or bad a ranking algorithm is by using it regularly, first impressions of Cuil are not good. A simple search for webometrics fails to find any of the three main webometrics blogs, whilst the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton is coupled with a photo of a guy in a turban. No one in the group wheres a turban.

Cuil is definitely no Google killer. These days there are a million and one reasons to go to the Google site besides search, and any new entrant into the market needs to offer something outstanding to break the monopoly. Cuil has nothing.

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Monday, 28 July 2008

The Hyperlinked Society

This morning another new book dropped through my letterbox, The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age . I came across it and ordered it on Friday, only to read a post in David Weinberger's blog on Saturday pointing out that it is available online for free. Would I have bought the paper copy anyway? Probably, but this post is just so that other webometricians can make a more informed choice.

Unsurprisingly I have not had the chance to read the book yet, however the first line of the blurb managed to annoy me slightly:
"Links" are among the most basic - and most unexamined - features of online life.

Whilst I appreciate that blurbs are there to sell books, that particular line is just rubbish (or rather the part of the bull they had sold-out of on a drunken visit to a restaurant in Madrid). As someone who has had to read some of the thousands of academic papers that examine web links, and having personally spent weeks on end examining the meaning of web links themselves, I feel I should point out that they are far from being among the most unexamined features of online life. They are not glitzy or glamourous, and they don't get the public over-excited, but they are definitely examined, if not among one of the most examined.

Despite this slight annoyance the book looks an interesting and quick read and, despite being about 10 years behind on my reading, I will probably put it to the top of my "To Read" pile.

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Saturday, 26 July 2008

BrowseRank v. PageRank

Search Engine Land posts about Microsoft's new ranking algorithm, BrowseRank, based on user browsing behaviour rather than web links. Whilst it seems reasonable to presume that BrowseRank will produce better results than PageRank, the question is whether people will willingly/knowingly share their browsing data, and if they do, which search engine they would choose to share their data with. Whilst Microsoft may not have been a particularly trusted brand in the past, they do seem to be putting the past behind them.

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Friday, 25 July 2008

A Webometric Thesis

The finishing of a PhD is more of a whimper than a bang. It has been seven months since I handed in my thesis, and despite having had only the most minor of revisions (total time approximately 4hrs), I have only just received the certificate for my masterpiece:

Whilst there are often complaints about the inability of government to work as effectively as 'the marketplace', we should all be grateful that academia is not in charge of the country; nothing would happen for years on end.

As many weeks have also passed since I sent my thesis to the University's electronic repository, and it still hasn't appeared online, I have decided to put it online myself.

Web Manifestations of Knowledge-based Innovation Systems
Innovation is widely recognised as essential to the modern economy. The term knowledge-based innovation system has been used to refer to innovation systems which recognise the importance of an economy’s knowledge base and the efficient interactions between important actors from the different sectors of society. Such interactions are thought to enable greater innovation by the system as a whole. Whilst it may not be possible to fully understand all the complex relationships involved within knowledge-based innovation systems, within the field of informetrics bibliometric methodologies have emerged that allows us to analyse some of the relationships that contribute to the innovation process. However, due to the limitations in traditional bibliometric sources it is important to investigate new potential sources of information. The web is one such source. This thesis documents an investigation into the potential of the web to provide information about knowledge-based innovation systems in the United Kingdom.

Within this thesis the link analysis methodologies that have previously been successfully applied to investigations of the academic community (Thelwall, 2004a) are applied to organisations from different sections of society to determine whether link analysis of the web can provide a new source of information about knowledge-based innovation systems in the UK. This study makes the case that data may be collected ethically to provide information about the interconnections between web sites of various different sizes and from within different sectors of society, that there are significant differences in the linking practices of web sites within different sectors, and that reciprocal links provide a better indication of collaboration than uni-directional web links. Most importantly the study shows that the web provides new information about the relationships between organisations, rather than just a repetition of the same information from an alternative source. Whilst the study has shown that there is a lot of potential for the web as a source of information on knowledge-based innovation systems, the same richness that makes it such a potentially useful source makes applications of large scale studies very labour intensive.

Obviously the above abstract will have all but the greatest dullard champing at the bit, and I have therefore made it available in both PDF and Word Document formats.

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Thursday, 24 July 2008

Do you have the Knol?

Finally Google's Knol is launched (after months of waiting). It's basically all about putting the author back into the publishing process, something that has been lost in the Wiki-verse.

You can never tell how these things are going to pan out until the uneducated marauding masses get involved and try to make some money out of it, so it is far too early to tell whether Knol is going to be a serious content provider or not. However, I am sure it won't be long before academics are comparing Wikipedia and Knol pages. In fact as I type this someone out there is probably comparing two pages and hoping to make a bit of a media splash. Unfortunately I will have to wait for Knol's 'Webometrics' page to appear before I can make a comparison with any sort of authority.

One last point. As Danny Sullivan emphasises, this time Google's product is known as 'Knol' not 'Google's Knol'. Is this an attempt to hide the Google brand as we begin to suffer Google fatigue?

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Warnings for all Pirates!

It's not quite the three strikes that got people worried back in February, but the online crackdown against music pirates continues. Following Virgin's warning letters, five more ISPs have signed up to a similar deal: BT, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB, and Carphone Warehouse.

With pirates having fewer places to turn Virgin will undoubtedly be breathing a sigh of relief, however, everyone else (with the exception of the music industry) will continue to complain. The biggest complaint, at least in today's newspapers, is parents suffering for their children's misdemeanors (The Times), although I would personally spin it as 'parents having to take responsibility for their children'. Suddenly it doesn't seem quite so unreasonable.

Whilst the warning letters don't bother me (I don't illegally download music), they do seem to have some effect. The realisation that their illegal behaviour can identified and recorded seems to be enough for many people. Just the other day a fellow Virgin customer was complaining to me that they were going to have to change their music sharing habits: Obviously I was my usual sympathetic self :-).

The alternative to buying each song individually seems to be the proposed internet music 'tax' (in the words of the irrational Daily Mail), or 'licence fee' (in the words of the right-wing Daily Telegraph which whilst hating licences loves big business more). The proposed £30 a year doesn't seem to excessive for a married couple with 2.4 kids, but there are some obvious concerns, such as will the licence stifle innovation as the music industry sits on its laurels, and will people still be able to buy just the odd song or album when the whole music industry is turned on its head. Apple's iTunes would be set to lose 90% of their UK business over night; but do we really need such a business taking a cut in this day and age?

I think the letters are a step in the right direction, they are forcing a solution to be found to what is obviously a problem. If you don't want to pay for the music then don't buy it, but you can't expect to have your cake and eat it too.

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Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Google's Lively: More Meebo than Second Life

Almost two weeks after its launch, and I finally got around to having a look at Google's Lively yesterday. Overall: Currently unimpressed, although the idea has potential.

Whilst it may be considered a 'virtual world' by some, in reality it is more of a personalised virtual chatroom, and comparisons with the likes of Second Life soon become foolish.
-Whereas Second Life is a huge integrated world, Lively is a collection of individual rooms (even if some of those rooms are islands).
-Whereas Second Life can be filled with whatever the mind can imagine (and script), Lively can currently only be filled with the limited selection of objects you are given.
-Whereas Second Life has a thriving economy, Lively has none.

However the limitations give Lively an important advantage over Second Life, it is easy to install and takes far less processing power. And most importantly for the customer, it is FREE.

Rather than competing directly with Second Life or Meebo, Lively is staking a claim for the ground half way between the two, and I can imagine it being very successful once it becomes more customisable, which it undoubtedly will. Most organisations will be far more comfortable with the creation of an organisational-specific room/world rather than setting up shop only to have the island next door turned into a sex-shop or filled with neo-nazis. However, until it does become customisable its uses are fairly limited.

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Monday, 21 July 2008

Did everyone leave the blogosphere without telling me?

When you have a number of things on the go at once, your blog and your RSS feed-reader are inevitably the first things to suffer. You have no time for writing any posts of substance, whilst you are all too aware of the potential for whiling away the day if you dive too deep into the blogosphere, as such you are wary of starting either. However, after finally finishing a book review that has been hanging over my head for weeks at 2.30am, I approach my feeds with pleasure this morning. Not only would I have the time to give more than a passing glance to the stories that piqued my interest, but I would have time to write about them if I so wished. Unfortunately it seems that the blogosphere has gone on holiday.

Despite not having the opportunity to check my feeds since Friday morning (a weekend to the mere mortal is a lifetime to a blogger), I found that it was filled with a rather measly 170 posts, barely half a glance's worth. This lack of new information was then couple with my so-called open desktop (as open as the average bank vault) refusing to allow me to install Google's Lively Virtual World, something I have wanted to have a look at for a couple of weeks.

So all in all it has been a rather disappointing start to the week. Could the blogosphere please let me know in future when it decides to go on holiday.

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Friday, 18 July 2008

Green Wii Peripherals??

I love the Wii and its wireless peripherals, but I hate having to make sure I have a constant supply of charged batteries. However a story over Engadget about a power-generating dance floor, got me thinking. Couldn't they create a power-generating wii board? Or a shake generated remote?

I appreciate that one person stepping on and off a Wii board wouldn't provide much power, but how much power does a Wii Fit board need? Whilst the Green Wii Remote could be a scaled down affair that doesn't include sound or vibrating. Would these be possible with current technology??

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What would YouTube show?

This morning I discovered that another person had clicked on one of my GoogleAds, earning me 73 cents and taking me within spitting distance of the $10 mark (where Google ask for my banks details). Whilst GoogleAds don't make me a fortune, it is always interesting to see the ads that Google 'thinks' most appropriate for my site. A glance today finds that I strangely have an ad for hotels in Leamington Spa on the homepage! There was once a Leamington Spa post on the front-page of the blog, but it has long since descended into the archives, and any visitors would find Leamington Spa hotels wholly inappropriate (except whilst this post is visible). Anyway, whilst clicking around on the AdSense site I decided that it would be interesting to see what videos ads the AdSense Player algorithms would deem appropriate for my site.

Without entering any keywords, and accepting videos from all categories:

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Wednesday, 16 July 2008

From Library 2.0 to Library 3D

Whilst I first noted Qik a few months ago, I haven't used it for anything useful. However, today we have a speaker from Finland (Kim Holmberg) talking on Library 2.0, and he has agreed to be streamed live (with the video continuing to be available afterwards).

It should all kick off at 1pm BST (about 25mins after this post), so if you are seeing a video of my shoes it hasn't started yet.

Update:...the slides:

Definitely a speaker worth inviting to give a talk.

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Monday, 14 July 2008

Is the phone the future of programming?

Way back in April I wrote that the answer to Bill Thompson's "Who will write tomorrow's code?" may be found amongst the Eee PC generation of users. However, after having my programming interest piqued once again by last week's Python workshop, I discovered I had regularly been carrying another device around that could have Python easily installed: my N95.

Whereas the Eee PC takes programming out of the bedroom into the community, programming on the mobile phone takes portability and sharing to a whole new level. Even more importantly, mobile phone programming would instantly grab the attention of the younger generation. Mobile phones are filled with their music, their videos, and their friends. Enabling users to create applications that use the data they already have (and more that they can download) can't help but be popular.

Python is easy to install directly onto the mobile phone (nb. you need to install the PythonScriptShell as well as PythonForS60), and by installing simple text software (such as Light Notepad) you can program directly on the mobile (albeit rather clunkily) rather than having to send it across from a PC.

Whilst Python for the S60 has now been available for a couple of years, you get the distinct impression that it is only really popular amongst those people who would be programming anyway. Surely its time that it went mainstream and introduced more people to programming. The solution to the perceived programmer shortage would seem to be in people's pockets.

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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Python for API Dummies

Python is a really simple programming language for the novice programmer. As such I held an afternoon's "workshop" for a couple of PhD students in my front room:

The aim of the workshop was to provide sufficient information about programming in Python so that at the end of the afternoon the user could:
-Install Python libraries
-Download information through various APIs
-Manipulate the downloaded information.
As it was necessary to create an extensive slide show, covering everything from installing Python to getting data from the Yahoo API, I thought it may potentially be of interest to other novice users who don't know where to start.

It doesn't necessarily include the quickest or most efficient way of doing things, but it is simple and does the job.

If you have any questions about specific points, feel free to ask...the questions can't be more stupid than the questions the PhD students asked...and some of the slides could probably benefit from further explanation.

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Sunday, 6 July 2008

Scopus v. Web of Science

Whilst there have been numerous different papers that have compared the Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar, until recently I have had to trust in others' opinions as I have not had access. In the last month, however, I have gained access to Scopus through starting an Open University course. Non-scientific early impression: Scopus is far better.

Scopus strikes me as much faster and more user-friendly than Web of Science, and the API takes its potential a step further. Just changing a few lines of the example code, and you can create a list of the most cited webometrics papers of all time, or the latest published webometrics papers. Web of Science will have to open up a lot more if it is going to keep its position as the number one citation database.

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UK Public Data APIs: It's only the start...

Last year a report for the Cabinet Office concluded that the government should make more of its data publicly available, this was followed last month by Gordon Brown announcing that online maps with crimes plotted on them will be made available, now we are beginning to see some of the public data finally being made available.

Already there seems to be an embarrassment of riches: a neighbourhood statistics API from the Office of National Statistics; Transport information from Transport Direct; Health care services and information from the NHS...and the list just keeps going on. Despite messing about with APIs for a number of years, the quantity of data available means that I have no idea where to start. The good news is that the Power are offering up to £20,000 to develop any ideas that you may have.

Whilst I have not had a chance to play about with any of the data yet, I do have one criticism: The use of a domain name (i.e., As the Power of Information Task Force has a government email address (i.e.,, why didn't they use a government domain name? Such domain names are restricted, and therefore provide a indication of legitimacy.

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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Virgin trains almost as bad as Virgin media

You don't have to be an information scientist to know the importance of good timely information. Whilst everyone should know the importance of politeness in keeping the customer happy when things do go wrong. Unfortunately someone seems to have forgoten to pass this information on to Virgin. After failing to inform me of a visit to sort my phone line the other week (a problem that is still waiting to be sorted), I have now been told to leave a train at a Virgin station with no explanation as to what the problem with the train is, when the next train is coming, and most importantly, no word of an apology for the inconvenience.

Maybe the increasingly mobile nature of computing will help to change the poor service that seems to be everywhere. Whilst I am often annoyed by the service I recieve, I have often calmed sufficently by the time I get home to not bother writing a letter of complaint. Mobile computing allows you to complain there and then...or at least blog about it.


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