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

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Python & the Flickr API on the Eee PC

Until yesterday I hadn't really thought about programming on the Eee PC, but once I started looking I was surprised how easy it was: Unbeknown to me, it has had Python 2.4 and 2.5 sitting there the whole time! Despite not being a particularly competent programmer, I found Python to be very user friendly, and look forward to programming on the Eee PC in a variety of settings in the future. My first Python program was used to find random Flickr users:

> import flickrapi
> import random
> api_key = 'XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX'
> for counter in range (1,1000):
>>> flickr = flickrapi.FlickrAPI(api_key, fail_on_error=False)
>>> a=random.randint(1, 99999999)
>>> b=random.randint(0,1)
>>> c=random.randint(0,9)
>>> d=str(a)+"@N"+str(b)+str(c)
>>> photos = flickr.photos_search(user_id=d)
>>> if photos['stat'] == "ok":
>>>>>> print d
> print 'done'

Webometric studies are always searching for ways of finding random users, unfortunately I have no idea how Flickr assigns its user_ids. O'Reilly's "Flickr Hacks' says:

"...a string of numbers, followed by an at sign (@), an N, and two more numbers (often 00 or 01)..."

Not exactly specific. The program calculates a number up to eight digits long before the '@N' and from 00 to 19 after the '@N'. Whilst most may be 00 or 01, I found them as high as 08. If anyone knows of any user_ids not included in these parameters, please let me know.

Sending 1,000 queries, 10 random users were identified. Not exactly efficient.

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Friday, 28 March 2008

Coding for the Eee PC

The Register notes that Asus have just released a Software Development Kit for the Eee PC. A cheap, widely available personal computer which can be easily programmed: Will the Eee PC be this generation's BBC micro?

The SDK is a welcome addition to the Eee PC, although it will mean that I have to learn another new language as it supports C and C++, but hopefully it will encourage a future generation of programmers in the same way the BBC Micro did. In fact it should be more encouraging, this time you don't have to be locked away programming in a room on your own, you can sit around in the park sharing code with your friends. Maybe the BBC could get involved this time with some nice 'how to program your Eee PC' television programmes :-)

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Research v. Internet

I have just come across a picture that perfectly sums up why I never get as much work done as I should:

How can webometrics compete with dinosaurs?

(Asher Sarlin's original picture can be found HERE).

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Print-on-demand: Amazon marks its territory

A posting over at TechCrunch highlights an Amazon announcement that is will only be selling print-on-demand books that use their own print-on-demand service BookSurge. Whilst this has implications for today's other print-on-demand publishers such as Lulu, the true print-on-demand revolution has barely started and when it does Amazon's old model of selling books will quickly fall down around its ears. Amazon needs to emphasise its publishing side before the online book selling business falls flat.

Personally I am a big fan of the traditional book, and feel that it has many years left in it yet; e-books will continue being the preserve of the geek for the foreseeable future. Whilst buying online has opened up a far wider range of books than was previously available in the local shop, and print-on-demand has increased the number of titles even further, we are currently having to suffer the delivery delay. The real excitement in print-on-demand will be when print-on-demand is available in the local highstreet: order any book you want and collect the printed copy ten minutes later.

Obviously there are numerous hurdles to jump through before print-on-demand comes to a highstreet near you, so it will probably be a few years yet, but I think (and hope) that it will come before the mass adoption of the e-book.

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Thursday, 27 March 2008

Hotmail continues losing email

On Tuesday I blogged that over the previous week at least two of the emails I had sent through hotmail had gone missing: all the recipient recieves is an email that is blank except for an advert at the bottom. Today I had two more hotmail emails go missing, or rather the same one twice, before the email finally successfully sent on the third occassion. I am currently checking that every email is sending....not particularly user-friendly.

I have no idea why the emails go missing (or rather why only some go missing when the majority travel without a problem from the same browser on the same computer). I would be interested in knowing if anyone else has been having a similar problem.

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My Google Shame

A four point manifesto was published on Read Write Web yesterday about how to avoid a Google media monoculture. The manifesto is aimed squarely at the advertising side of the Google behemoth. In truth we are in need of a far wider ranging manifesto, even those who dislike the extent of Google's power find it creeping into their lives.

My own (daily) Google shame includes:
-Google Search Engine (approximately 50% of my searches)
-Blogger
-Google Analytics
-Google Ads
-Google Scholar

Google infects my online life due to a combination of habit, ease, and lack of alternatives. Whilst I can try to wean myself off of search, I have no idea how easy it would be to change the blogging software (without losing everything), whilst once you have started one analytics program you are loathed to change to another which calculates the numbers differently. At least I can hold my head up when emailing (Hotmail), reading my RSS feeds (Newsgator), reading the news (BBC), or doing a bit of social networking (anything but Orkut).

Regarding the 4-point manifesto, in addition to wishing for a wider ranging manifesto there is one point I do disagree with: a push towards cost per action (CPA). Whilst I understand that steps are necessary in preventing people clicking on their own links purely for the ad-revenue, CPA would tip the balance too far in the advertisers favour. Why should I have ads on my site that earn nothing because the advertisers product isn't wanted on closer inspection? It also doesn't bear thinking about how long I would have to wait for someone to not only click on one of the ads, but to actually do something on the advertiser's site. After almost three weeks of Google ads, and 1,438 page impressions, I have only had 2 ads clicked on!

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Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Beta Problems: The case of Google Analytics

It is often stated that we are now in the age of the perpetual beta as web services continually evolve to gain competitive advantage, never reaching a final finished product. Whilst we may enjoy the new additions to a favourite web site it can establish bugs in previously stable software. The effect of these bugs can range from the annoying to the potentially disastrous. Google Analytics seems to be having a number of these problems at the moment, hot on the heels of its not displaying graphs properly earlier in the month, I now find that it is refusing to acknowledge "absolute unique visitors".

When investigating a day's traffic it is always the absolute unique visitors that I am interested in rather than the total visitors, after all I often visit my own site more than once (and occasionally so do others). However, at some point yesterday Google analytics stopped being able to distinguish an absolute unique visitor. The results say I had a mere 27 absolute unique visitors yesterday, despite visitors from 33 different cities, whilst it currently says that I have had 27 visits today, of which there is not one single absolute unique visitor!

The perpetual beta works when innovation is more important than consistency. For me, in the cases of site statistics and email, consistency is more important than any new innovations.

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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Is a Web 2.0 future really so great?

One of the reasons that I haven't posted much over the last few days (besides the fact it was Easter), was that I have been trying to catch up on my ever-rising pile of unread books. After finishing Leadbeater's "We-Think" I followed up with Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody". Whilst both are enjoyable enough quick reads, by the end I find myself dying for some cynicism about the social empowered future; not the capitalist-led cynicism of Keen whose opinions have a Thatcherite air to them (a distinctly bad thing), but rather a cynicism about the empowering of the masses. Whilst both Leadbeater and Shirky point out that the future will be turbulent, they believe that the likelihood is that the overall outcome will be positive. I am not so convinced.

My more cynical vision of the future is based on a lack of belief in the good of democracy. Whilst democracy would seem to have provided the best solution for establishing a government so far, it has primarily worked because of its limitations rather than in spite of them. The more abhorrent opinions of the majority are, more often than not, curtailed by the representatives of democracy. If the social tools that are available open the way for a more direct democracy then the flood gates are likely to be opened to man's rather nastier side.

When direct democracy is possible, is it possible to defend representative democracy on the basis that the majority have repulsive views? It seems more likely that a government, which will become increasingly vulnerable to the masses, will have to embrace the majority. To misquote: "The voters are never wrong. Repulsive, maybe, but never wrong".

It is too late to put the genie back in the bottle, and I don't think I particularly want to. I would, however, like a bit of a less evangelised future.

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Hotmail's selective sending

Despite recent difficulties in accessing my Hotmail account I have been, all-in-all, pleased with the service they have provided over the years and have no wish to move. However, over the last week Hotmail has stopped sending some of the long emails I have been diligently typing out, and instead just sent the recipients the adverts at the bottoms of the emails. Without checking the contents of the 'sent' email in the 'sent' folder, the first I hear of the problem is if the recipient takes the trouble to ask if there was meant to be more to the email than they received.

To my knowledge only two of my emails have gone missing in action (although I have not checked every sent email), however, what has also been lost is my trust in the service. Whilst the majority of my emails may be of little worth, some are extremely important, and if an important one goes missing it can really mess up my job.

For me the question is how can Hotmail get back my trust. I don't want to leave, and I certainly don't want to take a walk to the Google-mail side of the street, but I equally don't want to spend the rest of my life checking the 'sent' folder.

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Friday, 21 March 2008

Giga-blast from the past

It is all too easy to forget about some of the alternative search engines out there, and I must admit that I can't remember the last time I used Gigablast. It was therefore good to read on ResearchBuzz that Gigablast are now offering site search, which I have now added to the right-hand frame of my blog (too often people overlook the blog search in the blogger toolbar/banner).

Gigablast seems to have had a bit of make-over since I last visited (when it looked something like THIS), and now it even has a very limited API. Personally I would like to see the API extended and a few advanced operators, surely that's an easy way of getting a competitive advantage over the other search engines.

Personally I hate the growth of Google search, and love any opportunity to support other search engines.

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Thursday, 20 March 2008

The Surprising Web: The case of UK political traffic

Despite years of surfing and investigating the web, I still find some of the habits of its users surprising. I spent this morning reading Charles Leadbeater's 'We-Think', one of the many books that are currently discussing the future of collaboration caused by new technologies. Whilst an enjoyable quick read, this post is not a book review, instead it is a reflection on one of the points made in the book: "The British political website that gets the most traffic belongs to the British National Party: racists are not given room to express their views on television so they use the Internet to promote and organise themselves."

Although I know the BNP has a web site, and have visited it more than once, I was nonetheless shocked to be told it is the political web site with the most traffic. As Leadbeater provided no reference for the statement, I decided to have a look for myself.

Whilst the sites that provide traffic information are notoriously unreliable, both Alexa and Compete provide the same picture. The BNP's traffic seems to be larger than the UK's major political parties, as well as some of the smaller ones who may have found it equally difficult to express the opinions in traditional news sources (e.g., greenparty.org.uk, ukip.org, respectcoalition.org, and the extremely un-mainstream natural-law-party.org.uk).



It is healthy to see, however, that British Parliament still commands a healthy lead over the BNP, and personally I would view that as a political web site:



Personally I hope that the majority of visitors to the BNP site are approaching them as an antiquated curiosity whose policies shock and disgust, rather than as a site with which they relate. Maybe these statistics give credence to the opinion that has been expressed elsewhere, that whilst the mainstream media state that they abhor the policies of the BNP they do give the small party far more exposure than they really should.

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Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Who is going to deliver the news tomorrow?

One of the many web topics that is of interest to me is the delivery and sharing of news on the web. Despite the rhetoric of the blogosphere I have never been persuaded that traditional journalism can be successfully replaced by so-called citizen journalism, for the most part the blogosphere highlights, and puts their own opinions on, news stories coming from traditional sources. Whilst I have always cast a cynical eye on the traditional media, I must admit that I didn't quite realise how far journalism had gone in the cutting of corners and trimming of budgets. After finishing Nick Davies' "Flat Earth News", you can only conclude that news is up the proverbial creek.

Even the great BBC, which brought my attention to the book in the first place, is not immune to criticism. Can correspondents really do their job properly as they constantly jump between tv stations, radio, and the web?

At a time when the market is clearly not up to the job, surely it is time we should be emphasising the Beeb's public service credentials rather than trying to force it into playing by the market rules. Surely there should be a campaign out there to increase the licence fee.

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Friday, 14 March 2008

Yesterday big day for SNS, but what about tomorrow?

Yesterday saw a couple of big social network stories:
MySpace launched developer platform in beta
Bebo bought by AOL for $850 million
Whilst we have been waiting for the MySpace story for months, the second was heralded with much less fanfare. Together the two stories mark final growing-up of SNS.

The big three have now all been bought (at least in part) and all have developer platforms. They are no longer new and exciting, but rather an integrated part of the web users' daily lives. Whilst there may be new entrants and new exciting innovations, the heady days are past us. The question now is what is going to be the next big innovation? What will be the next exciting range of products that get the big players fighting over the start-ups? The obvious answer is the virtual worlds of Second Life etc, but they have yet to really capture people's interest in the same way...and if EA-land is anything to go by they won't for a while yet.

If I knew the next big idea I wouldn't be writing some crumby blog, instead I would be programming like crazy. But if you know where I should be investing my spare sixpence please feel free to let me know.

Nb. In truth I wouldn't be programming, instead I would be getting others to program for me. Too much wrapping up of programming and web innovation stifles innovation.

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Thursday, 13 March 2008

WiFi -Some stats.

GigaOm published some interesting data yesterday on worldwide corporate wi-fi usage. Whilst it unsurprisingly highlighted London as the city with the greatest number of corporate wi-fi users in the world (after all it is the world's greatest city), I was personally surprised at the low proportion of users accessing wi-fi in cafes. Whilst I appreciate that business users have a lot of time on their hands in hotels and airports, I would expect this to be overwhelmed by the numerous 5/10 mins here and there in cafes all the time. Even in the back-of-beyond that is Wolverhampton I have found half a dozen cafes where I can get free wi-fi, from which I average 3-4hrs access week (sometimes a lot more).

It would seem as though theiPass results can only tell the story of how their users use their service, rather than reflecting the growth of wi-fi use generally. That is the data I would really like to see.

nb. I would also like to see an increase in links on posts to their sources. The lack of links seems to be increasingly popular over the last few months.

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Classifying the web: Herding ADHD cats

When it comes to boring jobs I like to think I have had some of the worst: taking the shells off of hard boiled eggs, taking the green bits off of tomatoes, and, most recently, classifying web links. Yes, I can classify the links at home with a constant supply of coffee and the music of my choice, but it is still one of the most boring jobs. The reason: web pages come in ever imaginable form, mostly with no discernible purpose, with links placed just because the web owner can. Classifying the web is like herding ADHD cats.

The good and interesting sites that we visit every day are surrounded by a web of crap that we only usually trip across if we are unlucky. These are not necessarily offensive sites, just sites that are absolute rubbish: spam, half-formed, badly written, orphaned. Classifying the web means that we have to wallow in this web of crap. Its not like classifying a library of books, but rather like classifying a whole world of which 90% is the council rubbish tip.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Google shares about to fall below $400

The Google share price is now the lowest it has been since October 2006, with some analysts predicting that it has another 20% to go! In the same way no-one knew how quickly the price would rise, no-one has a clue about how far it would fall. Even my own, rather negative, opinion now seems extremely optimistic.Today is likely to see the price fall below $400, and all this before the impact of a Microsoft buyout of Yahoo and a downturn in the US economy has yet to hit.

Whilst I find it hard to believe the price will fall much lower than $300 nothing would shock me now, I am just pleased that Google is losing a bit of its shine and look forward to their having a rocky ride in the future.

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Monday, 10 March 2008

Not all links are equal!

Thanks to a single link on the BBC's delicious roll on Saturday night, yesterday saw Webometric Thoughts get its highest number of hits ever. Whilst for many sites 121 absolute unique visitors in a day (according to Google analytics) wouldn't be worthy of note, the webometric blogging community have fairly low aspirations.

What is interesting, from the perspective of a Google Analytics junkie, is the difference between the amount of traffic this link drove in comparison to a similar on the BBC's delicious roll on the 16th January. Whilst the January link only drove 17 unique users to my site, Saturday's link drove 102 users over a three day period!

Was the extra traffic all due to the extra time the link was visible on the BBC? It was visible a lot longer, but weekend traffic is often slower. Or was it the topic of the posts? The first was about ISPs, whilst the second was about the iPhone. It seems equally likely that the difference in the traffic is due to the link's anchor text. Whereas the first text referred to 'David Stuart research fellow', the second link merely referenced the blog 'Webometric Thoughts' (AC seems to have done much more digging than NR).

Not all links are equal, however equal they may seem.

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Saturday, 8 March 2008

iPlayer on the iPhone: Does the BBC believe the hype?

I am probably the world's biggest BBC fan, and think they have made some great moves on the internet, especially with the rolling out of the iPlayer. But now they have managed to annoy me. Just catching up on my RSS feeds, and found that yesterday the iPlayer became accessible on the iPhone. Whilst I look forward to the BBC rolling out on mobile devices, choosing the iPhone first is just annoying.

I appreciate that they have to roll the services out across the different systems one at a time, but I don't understand why they chose the iPhone over the S60 based devices, specifically the N95 which would have made the service available to many more times the customers. It is not a repeat of the Linux/Apple/Windows debate as Windows was always the dominant platform. The iPhone is only the dominant device in the minds of certain sections of the blogosphere.

"We started with iPhone because it is the device most optimised for high quality video currently available"...seems a pretty lame excuse to me, especially as the N95 would have allowed for true mobile viewing as it could utilise 3G rather than being limited to Wi-Fi.

Obviously part of my annoyance is due to my having an N95, but in my defense I haven't moaned about the lack of access on the Wii or the fact that when I try to access BBC files on the Netgear EVA 700 it refuses to give me a picture (unlike the Channel 4 programmes which work perfectly). I think this time it's a legitimate whinge.

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Tapping into the Google Adsense Millions!

In the early days of my blog I decided to not bother with adverts; after all, it seemed highly unlikely that I would generate enough traffic to earn the Google Adsense minimum. However, as I have been blogging I have found that the visitor numbers have steadily increased, and if they continue in the right direction I have hopes of eventually getting the blog to pay for itself!

My hosting package is costing me £56.37 for two years. According to the article I read when I made my original decision, a rough rule of thumb is that 1,000 impressions will make 50 cents. February saw my webometrics blog gain 2,160 impressions...so that would equate to just over a dollar. Whilst the numbers probably aren't quite there yet, it's worth a try if the numbers keep improving.

Admittedly I hope the standard of the ads improves. The first ads are for www.postersonwheels.co.uk and www.bee-moved.co.uk. If anyone visiting my site clicked on one of those I would be extremely suprised.

Nb. I still think the ads look tacky, but I have tried to place mine in a fairly unobtrusive place.

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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Facebook Harassment: When is a poke one too many?

As I sat in my dentist's waiting room yesterday (no work necessary, thanks for asking), I read a report in the Daily Telegraph about the first man who has been taken to court in the UK for allegedly harassing his ex-girlfriend via Facebook.

Whilst all new communication technologies seem to eventually make it to court for allegedly involving harassment, surely after the first unwanted sheep or two had been thrown in the ex-girlfriend's direction, or he had poked her once too often, she would have simply de-friended him. As the trial is only up the road I am almost tempted to go along later in the month and find out exactly the role Facebook took, surely it was a minor part that the media have decided to focus on.

UPDATE: The defendent has been cleared according to the Register 27/03/08

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IE 8 v. Firefox 3

Internet Explorer 8 was launched yesterday, and whilst I have spent the morning messing about with some of the new features, it's unlikely to set the browser world alight. But there again neither is Firefox 3 (however over-excited certain web-users get).

For all the additions over the years, browsing is pretty much the same as it always has been. Whilst I may get excited about certain new innovations when a browser add-on first launches, I have soon returned to browsing in the way I always have: clicking on links and typing urls into the address bar. The only innovation that has made a real difference to my browsing habits has been the inclusion of tabs.

The situation is probably the same for most users, despite geek hype about Firefox, and the majority of users will continue to use the familiar Internet Explorer interface for the foreseeable future. Personally, however, I would welcome a new browser that fundamentally changes the way we surf.

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Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Flickr: Are other people's tags useful?

The short answer is: YES. The longer answer can be found in the latest issue of Online Information Review, hot off of the presses this morning:

Angus, E., Thelwall, M., Stuart, D. (2008). General patterns of tag usage among university groups in Flickr. Online Information Review, 32(1), 89-101.

If, however, you (or your institution) are not a subscriber to Online Information Review, I have made a preprint available for your enjoyment HERE (Emerald has impressively liberal author publishing rights).

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Monday, 3 March 2008

It's a Wi-Fi World

One complaint about the modern world is that there is a severe lack of jetpacks, with such jetpack-lessness often being quoted as an example of how little the world has changed or science and technology has lived up to its promises. Sometimes, however, I am shocked at how much the technology has changed, and how quickly it has become embedded in our lives.

This was most noticeable last week when, during a Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group lunch in a local cafe, I decided to Skype a Finnish colleague.

With the cafe offering free wi-fi, and the Eee PC being ever present in my bag, it was possible for Kim to virtually join us for free. It no longer requires top of the range technology, and even a place like Wolverhampton has free wi-fi appearing all over the place (I can think of about 6 off the top of my head).

The Google logo informs me that it is Alexander Graham Bell's birthday today (maybe they listened to my logo suggestions), but the world has changed a lot since he made his first call.

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