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

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Happy Anniversary Webometric Thoughts!

In response to GeekAnt's comment on Google's Lego logo, the gauntlet was thrown down to two of London's top graphic designers (Heena Varambhia & Mark Bowerman):
What would a Google logo look like if they had one on the 14th August to celebrate the anniversary of my blog??

After much deliberation, it was decided that Heena's entry would be Webometric Thoughts official anniversary logo:

With Mark's impressive entry suffering from a lack of celebratory cake:


We will have to wait and see whether Google makes the same choice, or designs a logo of their own for the 14th August.

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Google to use QR Codes

ReadWriteWeb have written a piece on 'Google barcodes' which, unless I am much mistaken, the rest of the world knows as QR codes. Google is to use them in print advertising.

Whilst the ReadWriteWeb blogger is not holding his breath for its success, he seems to have missed one important point: The software is already on the phones of a large audience! What Google need to do is educated the mobile users (including the so-called technologically minded at ReadWriteWeb).

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Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Poking about on Twitter: As is Scoble

Whilst Twitter (et al.) has its place, I have yet to see a role for it in my life. However, as a researcher into all things Web 2.0 I decided to dig a little deeper, move beyond the signing on process, and have a look at what everyone else is talking about. Unsurprisingly, with my particular research interests, I added the likes of Scoble and Winer (manly due to the promise of anti-hilary rants). Approximate time it took Scoble to start following my feed: 1 min. Surely he either has the process automated, or the man is a machince.

How can you meaningfully follow 6,971 Twitter-ers? And would it actually be useful? Or is it all for show and he has a secret account with those he really follows?

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Monday, 28 January 2008

Facebookers Back Barack

After spending the morning reading a few articles about blogging in the 2004 US election (does life get any more interesting??) I decided to have a look how Facebook reflected the race for the Democrat presidential nomination.

Basically, if democracy reflected the votes of the idealistic youth, rather than the self-interested cynical old conservatives, then Obama would be walking into the Whitehouse (no-one idealistic votes Republican). A comparison of Obama and Clinton's top groups can't help but make anyone who dislikes Hilary smile:
Obama
1. Barack Obama for President in 2008
2. Students for Barack Obama
3. America for Barack Obama
4. Barack Obama for President
5. 1 Million strong, against Hilary and Obama
(nb. maybe it is the annoyingly superfluous comma that is currently restricting the 1 million strong to 5,493).

Clinton
1. Anti Hilary Clinton 2008
2. ABC= Anyone But Clinton
3. as much as i love the U.S...i'm gone if Hilary Clinton becomes president
4. I'd vote for a trained chimpanzee before Hilary Clinton
5. Hilary Clinton Shouldn't Run For President She Should Run The Dishes

I'm sure that analysis of the comments in the groups would be even more of an eye-opener...although many of the comments about Clinton are probably not suitable for repeating in a polite blog.

In 2004 blogging was the also ran of the presidential campaign. Yes, it was an important element, but not quite the deciding factor that was hoped for. The question is whether social network sites will be the also ran, or the decisive mover. If Hilary enters the Whitehouse, it is definately an also ran.

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Scientific Articles v. Blog Posts

Both scientific articles and blog posts share the currency of recognition. However, whilst citations are rather dry affairs that are relatively few and far between, blogs get far more interesting critiques from a far wider audience. It's a shame that scientific articles aren't more like blog posts.

The sad truth is that my off-the-cuff comments about the web and the progress of my allotment (http://plot13.blogspot.com/) receive far more readers than any of my scientific articles. Over the last few months the number of unique visitors to my Webometric Thoughts blog, according to Google Analytics, have been steadily increasing (Nov-434, Dec-633, Jan-807(so far)). Whilst these figures would barely register in the blogosphere, they are far higher than could ever be hoped for in the academic world where you generally find yourself questioning whether even the referee bothered reading the article fully.

Even when the articles are read, and you are given a citation, they generally refer to some obscure generalisation you have made, barely worthy of a citation: it is more to do with the citer building authority for their own paper by showing how much they have read. In comparison a blogger does not benefit from referencing your post, and has the freedom to discuss it as little or as much as they wish. Therefore coming across a blog reference can be much more rewarding (I just came across my personal favourite today).

It would be great if the academic world could combine the informality of the blogosphere with their traditional publishing activities. Unfortunately most academics see blogs as a drain on their time rather than an opportunity to broaden the reach of their research and get more useful feedback. Admittedly my eclectic mix of posts has done little to further the blogging cause in academia, but surely there are some academic bloggers out their which truly show the potential of blogs.

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Lego Google

The Google 'special occassion' logos can often be a bit tiresome. After all, I don't actually need a snowman to let me know its christmas, or a pumpkin to remind me I am liable to have scrounging children banging on my door. However, I guess most people don't have a diary with the 50th birthday of Lego written in it:

Please continue with more interesting logos Google.

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Thursday, 24 January 2008

All YouTube content now mobile: Please use headphones

Search Engine Journal are pointing out that all YouTube content is now available on 3G smart phones...about bloody time. The YouTube mobile site has been available for ages, http://m.youtube.com/ but has until now had a VERY limited amount of content.

Whilst the content has been available through unofficial applications for some phones (e.g., emTube), for some reason I could only get them to work with wi-fi rather than 3G, which didn't really utilise the mobile aspect of the phone.

My only concern with YouTube mobile is the inevitable increase in people having noisy gadgets in public places. I'm sure that video of the baby laughing, or someone falling over is hilarious, but I really don't want to hear it. If you don't already have them, PLEASE BUY SOME HEADPHONES!!

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Wednesday, 23 January 2008

QR-Kill: I want to play

All about mobile life have just drawn attention to what sounds like a fun new QR-code pastime: QR-Kill. Basically you wear a printed QR code on your back with you name and phone number, and when someone locks onto it and sends you an SMS you're dead.

Unfortunately the only people I know with any idea of what a QR code is, are my extremely un-urban-soldier research group and a Finnish webometrician who would be quickly tracked to the closest pub drinking a pint of strongbow.

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Dundee, Northampton, or Bournemouth? Which will become the technological capital of the UK?

On those occassions that I get the 2Mb connection I pay for (which seem to be increasingly rare), I find that it fulfils all my broadbanding needs...nonetheless I do find myself coveting the potential 100Mbps that may soon be on offer in the UK.

So, what are the added advantages of the super-fast speeds? According to the Beeb:
...super-fast net connections could create a range of new applications including on-demand high-definition TV, DVD quality film downloads in minutes, online video messaging, CCTV home surveillance and high definition gaming services.

OK, they are the immediate applications: better (and faster) versions of applications which are already available. But they are not really tapping the true potential of such speeds.

There will undoubtably be big applications: virtual worlds with details and involvement that haven't been imagined since the early nineties; distributed-computing tackling problems in new and more powerful ways. However, I think the biggest change will actually be through the use of increasing numbers of low-bandwidth applications throughout the home/workplace. People will start looking at everyday items and asking: what if it could connect with the world? what would be possible? Such applications won't take off, or even be given serious thought, until bandwidth stops being seen as a scarce commodity.

How will they cut costs on laying the new fibre, by using the sewer system. Seems appropriate for most of the stuff on the internet.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2008

QR Codes at the BBC...but I am not sure why

All about mobile life have pointed out that one part of the BBC have now started incorporating QR Codes (not the upstart Upcodes), although I'm not sure how much use the QR codes are.

BBC Programmes beta, which provides information on all current TV and radio programmes across the BBC, has provided a QR code for each of the programmes listed, simply by adding /qrcode to the URL. So, the QR code for Torchwood (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006m8ln) is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006m8ln/qrcode.

Whilst I love the BBC and can see a lot of potential in QR codes, I am waiting for them to roll out to more useful areas of the site before I get over excited. I can see how QR codes embedded on news and sports pages, linking to mobile optimised versions would be useful. However, I can't imagine that it is very often that people think "I really want to be able to access these programme details on the move...if only I could easily transfer the URL easily across". Whilst I suppose an avid fan may wish to embed a QR code on a T-shirt, to show affiliation with a programme, the BBC codes don't even help with that as they are not in a useful format.

Although hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

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Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Is content king of social networks?

I have just finished Hitwise's "The Impact of Social Networking in the UK", and as I thought it is well worth a read (although it didn't actually appear in my inbox until lunchtime today).

Whilst I would agree with most of the report's predictions for 2008, especially the growth in the role of social networks for marketing and the increase in specialist social networks, the report didn't particularly address the issue of content. By which I mean the quality content of the music, film and television studios, rather than the strange things that pass for humour amongst the user-generating masses. The general social network that successfully ties up the rights for their users to share music and video seems likely to take the spoils, and a successful new entrant could quickly usurp the market leaders.

The music rights secured by Imeem are likely to have been a major contributory factor in the social network's massive growth over the last year, and that these rights are only for the US helps explains the network's missing from the top 25 UK social networks. Whilst the growth seems to have slowed of late (at least according to alexa and google trends), music rights are not likely to be as enticing as video rights. People want to listen to music on numerous different platforms, whereas television programmes are usually only watched the once.

Whilst I have tired of Facebook, I could be persuaded to return on a more regular basis if I got to do the social stuff whilst watching quality TV programmes.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The Impact of Social Networking in the UK

Hitwise have just released a white paper on:
The impact of social networking in the UK
Whilst I am still awaiting the actual white paper to appear in my inbox, it is probably worth having a look at (with a seemingly painless sign-up process).

Am I the only one surprised at the continued interest in Facebook?

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BBC iPlayer gets people interested, but are the ISPs up to the job?

I have just been reading the BBC's post about the success of the iPlayer since its official Christmas launch. Although, whilst I am extremely happy for their success, I fear that there is little room for growth, in fact after a couple of months there may even be a slow down in usage, especially with streaming programmes, as the ISPs start to throttle people's internet.

As a user who has been using the iPlayer for months, my broadband seems to be constantly throttled these days. It got to the point the other night that I was downloading a file at an extremely feeble 6k rather than the supposed 2Mb (unlimited) I am subscribed to! The fair use limits can not be considered fair use in any true sense of the word, as they have failed to respond to changing habits in internet use. Although in truth I can't say that they are "unfair" as it is extremely hard to find out exactly what they are, and you are given no warning the throttling is coming.

Whilst we have been hearing a lot about the government's concern with broadband speeds not living up to the advertised speeds, they really need to be stepping in and knocking some ISP heads together. Leave it to the market when it works, but the ISP market is not working.

Whilst it will probably all be sorted at some vague point in the future, it really doesn't help with the missed episode of Kingdom that is currently only available in a streaming format on ITV.com (although ITV.com have noticeable improved the finding of programmes I can no-longer stream).

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Monday, 14 January 2008

Legal Film Downloads

Whilst the film download options for Americans seem to be constantly improving, the UK is miles behind. It feels as though I spent the whole of the weekend searching for a decent legal web site, all to no avail. You either have to buy the download-to-keep (which is usually more than it would cost for the DVD), or you have an EXTREMELY limited range of films available.

Yes the UK's online TV is great, I love the iPlayer, 4OD, and streaming episodes of metal mickey on ITV, but where is the UK's Amazon unboxed equivalent?

This is all made much worse by the fact that during my search I was constantly coming across sites where I could get illegal copies for free. If film companies don't want people pirating copies of films, they need to make official copies available ASAP at a reasonable price.

If anyone does know of a good legal UK site I would be pleased to hear about it.

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Friday, 11 January 2008

Combining the Eee PC with the N95

How could you improve on the Eee PC? Give it mobile web (broadband quality - through which I could stream the BBC's Flash programmes):

Whilst it is important to check your mobile operator's pricing policy (I needed to up-grade from T-mobile's web 'n' walk, to web 'n' walk plus), the steps are fairly easy...once you find the right pages to follow on the web:

1. Enable accessing the full-desktop mode on your Eee PC.
2. Add your N95 network

Whilst it is suggested that you need to be "fairly comfortable at the linux shell prompt" when it comes to adding the N95, everything you need to do is fairly intuitive.

How on earth did we manage before people posted everything online?

nb. obviously if I suddenly find I have a bill for hundreds of pounds I will change the post accordingly. It is worth noting that whilst I upgraded my plan online, I had to phone T-mobile to get the upgrade today rather than on my next billing date.

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Thursday, 10 January 2008

NewsGator RSS Aggregators now free

It is difficult to over emphasise the importance of RSS feeds to the information professional, and I am always shocked when I come across someone who doesn't use them. Until now I have been happily using the web-based Bloglines, with my only criticism being the regularity with which it checks some of the feeds, and that I have never found their mobile service to be particularly user friendly. Whilst others have since transferred to Google's Feed Reader, personally I like to keep my web services in more than one basket. However, with NewsGator now offering their mobile, web-based and downloadable aggregators for free it is definately time to consider a change.

First impressions are very favourable, although whilst the additional features of FeedDemon are no-doubt useful, I do find myself missing the simplicity of the Bloglines. Only time will tell if NewsGator has enough to make my temporary change permanent, and the key may be the quality of the mobile reader.

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Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The Problem with MessageDance

I have previously mentioned MessageDance, a service which allows you to embed a widget on your blog or web site which visitors can post messages to via email, but didn't have access at the time. Whilst I finally got my invite to the service last week, I have not had the opportunity to blog about it until now (have I mentioned the fact every waking moment has been spent on an appallingly written PhD?).

Whilst I still like the idea of MessageDance, I think it requires too much work on the part of a message poster to be worthwhile embedding. If someone attempts to email a message to a MessageDance account, they receive the following message by return post.
The MessageDance user you are sending a message to (webometrics) does not have you in their accepted friends list. In order for you to send them messages, you need to be a registered user of MessageDance and webometrics has to agree to accept your messages.

On my blog I want people to be able to email me comments without having to join a service they may have no interest in using again. Yes, this opens the service up to spam, but I should have the option of taking that chance, and vetting the comments before they are posted if I choose. Good services grow because of the quality of the product rather than forcing customers to join.

If MessageDance changed this aspect, I would happily embed the widget at the earliest opportunity.

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Wikia: More than Wiki-Mahalo?

The most anticipated launch of the year so far was the Wikia Search Alpha on Monday (although with the PhD calling I had to force myself to ignore it until today). Whilst I welcome the idea of a transparent search engine, and hate the dominance of Google in the English speaking world (such a monopoly is not in the public interest), I am unsure how well the wikia search project will work, or even if I want it to succeed.

Search engine transparency appeals to me both as a regular search engine user, and as a webometrician. I broadly agree with Wales's awfully worded sentiment that "sunlight is the best disinfectant", and access to crawling and ranking data could allow webometricians to have access to larger crawls of the web without compromising our understanding of where the data comes from. However, I am not a big fan of human-edited directory approach.

Wikia, like Mahola before, have decided to mix-up what we used to label directories and search engines, and create human-edited search engines, where for certain searches the search engine results include a human edited article on the topic. Whilst Mahalo pays people to create these articles, Wikia will allow any user to add to an article, in the true wiki spirit. But whilst you may be willing to contribute to a wiki article for the good of the community, would you be willing to continue doing this when the money starts to roll into Jimmy Wales's pockets? Wikia Search is a commercial venture.

Whilst human edited search engines may have their place in world of search, they appeal to the generalist rather than the specialist. Pages for the iPhone and Heroes will quickly appear, but I can't imagine people will still be jumping on-board with enthusiasm if they starting seeing Wales get rich, and such a search engine needs mass participation for it to be of any use for those interested in more than the latest Paris Hilton gossip.

In a perfect world an individual would have the opportunity to personalise a search engine's ranking system to their own requirements, preferably for each specific query, varying the effects of different features according to the sort of data that was required, e.g., links, keywords, anchor text, domains. However, such personalisation is still a distant dream.

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Blog Wars

The gauntlet has been firmly thrown down by Oh, what a tangled web we weave..., , or has it merely been picked up after I threw it down previously? Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to respond as my PhD thesis has been consuming my every waking moment, but I now have a couple of days respite. The blog readability test that showed my blog to be of a higher standard than the other webometric blogs at the end of November, now shows the Finnish webometrician to be of a higher standard.

Competition between blogs should always be welcomed. It forces us to up-our-game, critically analyse our posts, and the standards of our blog as a whole. Too often the top blogs start to coast, and those have built a following based on well written posts start to fill with pictures of their children's birthday party. As webometricians, competition lets us look more critical at the various tools that are available for comparing blogs and web sites, especially those that don't seem to be working in our favour. It is worth noting, however, that despite my lack of quality posts of late, I continue to lead webometrics.fi in a number of indicators:
Technorati Ranking
Webometric Thoughts - 871,446
Oh, what a tangled web we weave - 2,910,025
Alexa ranking
webometrics.org.uk - 3,816,072
webometrics.fi - 11,904,548
I will take the competition as an opportunity to up my game, but will Oh, what a tangleed web we weave... ?

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Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Eee PC/RM minibook on BBC front page


When you hit the front page of the BBC, you know you have made it big, whatever PC Mag says.

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T-Mobile Favouritsm

I awoke this morning to be greeted with the cheery message that I had got 5 free song downloads from the T-mobile Mobile Jukebox. Unfortunately my girlfriend, who has the same phone and T-mobile contract, was not greeted with the same message. For some reason I got the distinct feeling that she felt that I was to blame for such favouritism. Thank you T-mobile.

It's the first time that I have used the T-mobile Jukebox, but I can understand why people do. It's so quick and simple you find yourself tempted to buy songs that you already have on CD just so you don't have to go through all the hassle of uploading them to your computer before putting them on your phone. Unfortunately it failed to fill in all the song details correctly on my N95, so they are currently listed as artist and album unknown.

The big limitation I found was that my N95 didn't seem to want to let me set any of the songs as a ringtone, which was a bit of a shame as I had always wanted Amy Winehouse's Rehab as my ringtone. That the songs are only valid to be played 2 billion times on the phone seems less of a problem.

Have T-mobile persuaded me that I should be downloading all my music to my phone? Personally I will be waiting for Nokia's "comes with music" package rather than paying for individual songs.

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Legend of Rock!

Is there anything more Rock than bare feet and a bright-blue Christmas tree?

Theoretically Guitar Hero III on the Wii is not as good as on the PS3 or the XBox 360, although I doubt anyone who plays it wil be sitting there complaining. I bought the game in ignorance of the Wii's limitations and on first playing it last night I found 4.5 hours passed with the only complaint being I was exhausted at the end.

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