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

Friday, 31 October 2008

Brand & Ross v. Old Media

If you live outside the UK the story of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross phoning Andrew Sachs is unlikely to have made an impression, however, in the UK it is seemingly the only thing people are talking about.

For those who don't know, the story can be summed up as follows:
In the recording of Brand's BBC radio show a number of childish phone calls were made to Andrew Sachs (most famous for the part of Manuel in Fawlty Towers). In one of these phone calls Ross shouts out "He [Brand] fucked your granddaughter". This then led to lots of discussion about the wayward nature of the BBC in the right-wing press, and numerous complaints to the BBC. A more detailed timeline can be found at the BBC, and the actual comments are, unsurprisingly, available on youtube.

So, why am I interested in this particular story? Because it is a great example of the continued power of old media. As the graph of blog posts below shows, there was no story until the Mail on Sunday created a story (the show was originally broadcast on Saturday 18th of October from 9pm-11pm).

The story created the 30,000 complaints, rather than the actual event. Whilst I acknowledge that there must be some standards, the question is whether those standards should be set by a right-wing press. If the phone call had happened in the middle of Songs of Praise then I would support the complaints, but what do you really expect from Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross?

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Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Does Bibliometrics need a Blogger?

Whilst searching on Google Blog Search for 'webometrics' I noticed that the usual webometric blogs are listed as 'Related Blogs':

As I had just been blogging on the subject of bibliometrics, I decided to see which the related blogs on that topic. Surprisingly there aren't any:

[Although two blogs are 'related' to Scientometrics].

If blogs are a useful way for sharing the latest news and information in a particular discipline, as well as the promotion of a discipline, then surely bibliometrics would benefit from the odd bibliometrician blogging occasionally [...for the sake of inter-disciplinary relations I will eschew the joke about bibliometricians being odd]. Admittedly the webometric blogs are not the best example of academic blogging, but it is a burgeoning online community of sorts.

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Bibliometrics in the News

It is not very often that I come across a mainstream news article that starts bandying around terms such as 'H-Index' and referring to the 'Web of Science', however today's Guardian has an article on the effect of web journals on academic publishing, the gist of the argument is summed up in the subtitle: "Online publishing reduces academic research to little more than a 'popularity contest', critics warn."

The critic in this case is Alex Bentley an anthropologist at Durham University, arguing that:
We're just producing so much wordage that nobody has time to read anything. It makes academic publishing, and even science itself, a bit like trying to get hits on blogs or try to make yourself the Britney of science.
Is the situation today really so different from an earlier age? Was there ever a time when we could read everything within our field, when academia wasn't a popularity contest? The web makes the popularity contest a discussion point for the lay person, but the popularity contest has been going on since the we could check our citations (or lack of them in my case).
As a result of this lack of time, people are just hyper-focused on Science, Nature and PNAS
Is it me or is the above statement just a load of old rubbish? Publishing in Science or Nature shares your work with a far broader group of researchers, but it is by no means a substitution for publishing in the top journals in your own field. No academic could have a career that was based solely on publishing in these journals.
Citations have always been important. But they have never been as ridiculously important as they are now.
Personally I welcome the move towards a more open metrics-based RAE system, whilst also recognizing that there will be those who try to play the system (Goodhart's Law). However, I believe that the best way to succeed in the metrics system is not to try to beat the system but to produce quality research, in the same way that the best way to get a high search engine ranking is to produce quality content rather than joining link farms. Information scientists already recognise that not all citations are equal, and in the same way Google adjusts its algorithm to stop spam dominating the front pages of our searches, we will adjust the calculating of metrics.

Dr Bentley will be pleased to hear that I will be flying off to Thailand next week to carry out some isotopic work on prehistoric skeletons.

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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Social Network Sites in the Real World

Grabbing some lunch in a local pub on Sunday I came across a poster advertising a social network I had never heard of:

This particular SNS's angle is to encourage you to buy 'X-cards', which you can hand out to people so that they can look at your x-me profile. However, despite being around since at least 2007 (according to the date on the homepage), X-me.co.uk fails to show any traffic on either Alexa or Compete; this means that the 'social' network gets less traffic than Webometric Thoughts!!

It's not the first time someone has tried to link the offline world with the online world (you may remember my world famous qr code t-shirt), but it is the first time I have ever seen a SNS advertised in a pub toilet. I would be intrigued to know what sort of money they spent on this inappropriate advertising campaign, surely the site would have gained more coverage by sending a press release out to a few technology blogs.

The X-Me cards are a rather flimsy reason to join a SNS, and the site owners would have probably been more successful building an application onto an existing SNS and focusing on the creation of some high quality business cards (e.g., moo.com).

(Nb. Taking photos in men's toilets is becoming a worryingly regular occurrence ).

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Monday, 20 October 2008

Paddington Bear v. Queen Elizabeth II

Last week saw two special logos on the Google.co.uk site: one for Paddington Bear and one for the Queen. Using Google Insights for Search it is possible to compare the effect of the Google logo on the different search terms.

Whilst the logo quadrupled the number of searches for the Queen, there was ten times as many searches for Paddington as normal! With the honours even (the Queen held on to the most searches), hopefully the results won't dent the chances of any future joint birthday parties (according to the BBC they share a birthday).

It is a shame that the daily details are only available for the last week, as it would be interesting to compare these logo results with those of some other famous people/events.

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Friday, 17 October 2008

Web Entrepreneurs: What a bunch of tossers

Last week I bought Paul Carr's Bringing nothing to the party: True confessions of a new media whore; yesterday I read it. Review in brief: A fun light read that managed to raise the occasional smile. Opinion of web entrepreneurs in general: what a bunch of tossers.

Obviously there is no reason why the web should be different to any other business with plenty of money sloshing about, it's just that I am highly unlikely to pick up a book on any other sort of business.

If I ever think about leaving the life of academia behind me, this is the book that made it clear that the life of a London web entrepreneur is not the life for me. I'm just not shallow enough.

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Thursday, 16 October 2008

Google's Royal Visit

If the Queen was visiting my office I'm sure I would tell everyone, but you have to think today's Google logo (.co.uk) is a bit tacky...and possibly even treasonable.

Fair enough if you want to turn Paddington Bear into a letter 'g', but the Queen's head? Why not have Prince Charles' ears as the two o's and be done with it.

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Monday, 13 October 2008

Another Book Review....

Just in case you find yourself bored on a Monday afternoon (or any afternoon for that matter), and you want to read some more of my words-of-wisdom/random-thoughts, I have just reviewed a book for Online Information Review(32(5)): Digital Media and Democracy.

This particular review was dragged from me through blood, sweat, and tears. On the night I had said I would send it off, I had also committed to having a curry with a couple of webometric colleagues; forcing me to drink diet coke so I could continue work afterwards, whilst they happily drank copious amounts of red wine (or some such alcoholic beverage). Nonetheless I was still enamoured enough with the book to want to recommend it unreservedly (albeit with a slight caveat in the end).

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Paddington makes Google more appealing

There are few things that could tempt me into using Google search on a regular basis, but admittedly a picture of Paddington Bear is a step in the right direction (currently on Google.co.uk, not Google.com).

Paddington's 50th Birthday, and still as youthful as ever!

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Thursday, 9 October 2008

Waterstone's Missing the Last Step

I have just bought another new book to add to the ever-increasing piles scattered around my flat: Paul Carr's Bringing nothing to the party: True confessions of a new media whore

I bought the book from Waterstone's online for £6.29 (£6.99 minus 10% for some special offer code they had sent me), as opposed to the £9.99 for one of the shop copies. As Waterstone's offer free delivery to your local store, that seemed a better option than paying for it to be delivered to my home (at which point I may as well have paid the full price in the shop). The only problem is, Waterstone's never tell you when an internet order has arrived. They tell you when the order is dispatched, but not when it has arrived in the shop.

Would it really be much more difficult to let people know the book has arrived, in the same way they let you know the book has arrived when you order it in-store? And why do I have to wait for my copy to be delivered when there are three copies sitting on a shelf in-store? The chain of high street stores could give Waterstone's a great competitive advantage over other online book sellers, but they just don't seem to be using it to their advantage yet.

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Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Mini-laptops are not all the same!

It is eleven months since I got my Eee PC, and I have never regretted it for a moment. Admittedly I now find myself coveting my girlfriend's Eee 901, but my only real complaint with the 701 is the touchpad button is rather worn from over-use.

Unfortunately not everyone has been so lucky with their choice in mini-laptops. Kim has been lamenting his choice of the Acer Aspire One on his blog:
"It wasn’t quite stable on any flat surface."
"The fan was so loud that I would be embarassed to use my Aspire One in some meetings or conferences."

Admittedly I was lucky: The Eee PC was the only mini-laptop on offer when I bought mine so I didn't have to make any tough choices. But as everyone tries to gain a slice of the budget-mini-laptop market some corners will be cut, so you are probably better off buying a brand that has an established reputation in the mini-laptop market rather than one of the newer entrants. If only Kim had listened....

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Sunday, 5 October 2008

Shelfari: Tracking my reading shame

On adding the latest book I had read to Shelfari I just realised that I have been a member for almost two years! This is a long time in web years, and there are surprisingly few other services that I have used for as long. I have long since replaced great and popular services like del.cio.us and Bloglines with Reddit and Newsgator, but somehow Shelfari has managed to keep my custom.

So what does two years of Shelfari tracking tell me? Basically, I don't read enough. Whilst it's the sort of conclusion most people can draw about themselves without having to track every book they read, it's nonetheless interesting to put a firm number to our lack of reading. Since joining Shelfari, almost 2 years ago, I have read 54 books. Just over one a fortnight. According to some survey results from 2002 it would put me in the top 20% of readers:
- Nearly half of adults had read at least five books or more in the previous 12 months.
- Almost one in five claiming to have read 20 books or more in the previous 12 months.
Whilst some people would be happy with such a record, as I can legitimately spend hours reading books as part of my job it is pretty pathetic.

I would like to read at least as many books as I buy, and possibly start to make a bit of a dent into the piles of unread books I have stacked-up around my flat. I should therefore probably be aiming at reading 100 books a year, about four times as many as I do now. If only there were a couple more hours in the day :-(

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Friday, 3 October 2008

It's Porn Friday!!!

It's not that today has been designated the official porn day of the year, merely that Friday is the day when adult web sites get most of their traffic. That's just one of the facts scattered throughout Bill Tancer's Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why It Matters, albeit the most memorable:

Whilst very much a popular book, rather than an academic book, it's a worthwhile read from a webometric perspective. If nothing else you can curse the limited amount of data we have access to in comparison to our commercial counterparts: Whereas we have to count links, they get to follow click-streams; following the mood and reactions of people around the world.

Whilst there is obviously big money to made with the Hitwise data, as well as with the data of their competitors, maybe they would find the data even easier to sell if it had been shown to stand up to the rigour of the academic community and the peer review process. My door is always open :-)

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Thursday, 2 October 2008

Five searches that were better in 2001

Whilst Google is constantly tweaking its search algorithm, it is clear that the 2001 results were better. The top 2001 results for a number of queries:

1. David Cameron - An assistant professor of physiology.
2. Wayne Rooney - A private investigator.
3. James Blunt - A general in the American civil war.
4. Kindle - A provider of banking systems.
5. Sarah Palin - Someone's dead ancester.

We can only hope that in the future we will find a return to the 2001 results, especially as far as searches 1 and 5 are concerned.

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Google 2001 v. Google 2008

In honour of their 10th birthday Google brought back their oldest available index a couple of days ago: Google 2001. This provides a great opportunity for looking at how the web has changed, especially the growth of certain terms in comparison to others.

As a webometrician, the obvious choice is to see how 'webometrics' has grown. However with changes in the index size the results are only meaningful in comparison to another result. In this case I have decided on 'Mike Thelwall', the hyper-productive author of over 100 papers in the field, who, luckily, also has an unusual name.


Whilst there were a similar number of documents at the start, and both have grown at an extremely fast rate, webometrics has grown at the faster rate. Scientific proof that there is more to webometrics than Mike Thelwall!

It would be nice if Google opened up some other indexes so that more points to the graph could be added.

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De-branding my N95 for the BBC iPlayer

I have had my N95 for over a year, but until yesterday I had left it as a crumby T-mobile N95 with the appropriately out-dated branded firmware. I had tried to change it once, but the required software refused to recognise my phone. It was annoying but I put up with it, until yesterday's announcement on All About Symbian that the BBC iPlayer was available for the S60.

I have been waiting for an S60 version of the iPlayer since it was made available for the over-hyped iPhone back in March. Unfortunately the iPlayer application (which can be downloaded here) takes the form of a Nokia Web Runtime (a Nokia Widget) rather than an S60 application, the difference being that the Nokia Web Runtime framework comes with the Nokia update software that wasn't yet built into the T-mobile firmware. Whilst I have put up with missing out on lots of exciting developments because of the T-mobile firmware, the BBC iPlayer is not just any old new software, its a new way to access the greatest television on Earth! (I may have mentioned previously that I am possibly the BBC's biggest fan). This time when I tried to de-brand my phone it all went smoothly.

If you have yet to de-brand, and want access to the iPlayer on your N95, then there is a detailed post on how to de-brand over at Simply Symbian.

As for the S60 iPlayer, my only criticism is the "Sorry, television programmes can only be watched over a wifi connection". My 3G connection is often faster than my wifi connection, I pay for an 'unlimited' data plan and it's about time there was a program that could make use of it.

Firmware offered for T-mobile phone yesterday: 14.0.001
Firmware offered for de-branded phone yesterday: 30.0.015

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Wednesday, 1 October 2008

How to shift the XBox 360: Open up the hard drive!

Earlier in the week it fell to me to buy my girlfriend an external hard drive for her Eee PC 901. She needed one for storing all those 'important' photographs she had taken over the years, and I wasn't going to get the chance to put Linux on her old laptop until those world-heritage-photographs were safe.

My first thought, after seeing the price of wireless external hard drives was an XBox 360. The Elite has 120 GB hard drive, plenty of room for a few photos, and with the September price drop it wasn't too much more. Unfortunately a bit of searching on the web showed that using an XBox was likely to require the physical copying of files onto a flash drive, and wasn't going to be an easy sell to my girlfriend. It seems to me that Microsoft are missing an angle on this one, yes you could get a lot larger external for your money, but how many people would take the compromise if the XBox just made the hard drive a little bit easier to use?

In the end I bought a 200 GB HandyDrive:

Yes I saved myself about £150, but I was disappointed nonetheless. Especially when the HandyDrive turned out to be faulty. Luckily, as there were no more 200 GB hard drives left, those nice chaps at Wolverhampton's Maplin's exchanged it for a 250 GB HandyDrive:

Photos courtesy of my girlfriend...the world can breath a sigh of relief that these, and others like them, are now safe.

nb. It is also worth noting that I was up until 4am this morning trying to get Ubuntu on the old laptop; it is still resolutely a Windows XP.

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