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

Friday, 30 January 2009

Reflections on Birmingham Social Media Cafe

Both blogging and academia can be rather solitary affairs, so visiting the Birmingham Social Media Cafe was a great opportunity to talk to other people who were interested in the social web; whilst Wolverhampton may feel like the back of beyond, it is at least close to civilization.

Basically BSMC offers the opportunity to stand around chatting to strangers whilst drinking coffee paid for by those nice chaps at Opera (on this occasion at least). I'd hate to estimate the number of participants, but definitely too many to speak to everyone, so your experience will depend on who you spoke to and what your expectations were. With no expectations, and managing to push aside my general wall-flower nature, I found it a useful experience; providing me with a far wider range of perspectives of the social web.

What did I learn? Mainly, despite my personal reservations, everyone else loves Twitter; many participants choosing to wear their Twitter ID rather than their name on their name badges (or should that be Twitter ID badge?). Whilst I'm still not convinced by Twitter's usefulness, it is definitely an area that needs further research. What do the networks of followers and the comments tell us about usefulness of Twitter?

Surprisingly I find, on returning to my desktop, that a friend has just started following me on Twitter. A definite sign of the mainstream users strolling on board. Her first post: "doesn't quite grasp what the hell this is all about"...personally I'm none-the-wiser a year later. Although I must admit I mostly use my account for dodgy research and programming. Maybe it is time for a more ethnographic approach to Twitter...

n.b. I also discovered that if you hang about with dogs (or PhD students) you catch time my badge will state "not a student".

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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Xda Serra (HTC Touch Pro/MDA Vario IV): First impressions

In Tuesday's post I stated: "I am thinking about O2's Xda Serra". No-one who knows me will be surprised to know I went out first thing yesterday and bought one:

First impressions were generally positive. Whilst I liked the touch screen, I was extremely grateful that there was a QWERTY keyboard; the inexactness of my stubby fingers would have soon led me to behanding myself! In no time I found myself happily using the keyboard, stylus, and my fingers all at the same time. I also enjoyed the benefits of a Windows operating system: the simple access to my email account of choice (i.e., hotmail), and the included mobile Office suite.

Then I spotted the downside. A rather large downside that led me to curse the phone, O2, the 18 month contract, and the time I wasted trying to sort it out. Basically, unlike my sturdy N95, there is no simple way to stop programs using the GPRS/HSPDA network for a data connection. Whilst this theoretically provides a seamless browsing experience, personally I'd rather know the data connection was definitely through WiFi.

O2 have an extremely old-fashioned view of unlimited mobile web use: "A fair use of 200MB per month applies to the O2 Web Bolt On"...not forgetting that you are not allowed "the continuous streaming of any audio / video content, enable Voice over Internet (Voip), P2P or file sharing." Whilst these particular rules don't seem to be confirmed in the forums, where users seem to think they will only be enforced if people get carried away, one likes to err on the side of caution.

According to my contract there is a "14 day Change Your Mind Policy", but what can I change to. There is nothing else out there!


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Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Which mobile phone should I buy?

With my T-mobile contract finally finishing yesterday, I am now looking for a new phone. However, despite having my N95 for 18 months, there is no obvious replacement.

Although there are Nokia phones with slight improvements, such as the N96 (or even the N95 8Gb), the improvements are not sufficient to persuade me to sign up for another 18 month contract. It is therefore necessary to look further afield, and at the moment I am thinking about O2's Xda Serra (a branded HTC Touch Pro):

Although it includes my main two requirements (i.e., touchscreen and qwerty keyboard), will I later regret not waiting for the N97? I have no way of knowing whether the N97 will be worth it, or whether it will even be in my price range. And at which point do you stop waiting? There is always a better phone just over the horizon!

Any comments or phone suggestions are welcome...although iPhone suggestions will fall on deaf ears.

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Sunday, 25 January 2009

Flickr API: If you don't want to give us the data, just tell us!

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are a brilliant way for researchers (as well as commercial developers) to use the data of the big web organisations in new and innovative ways in a controlled and ethical manner. Whilst there are usually limitations, we find ways of working within the boundaries we are set. What is annoying, however, is if you find that the service isn't being particularly honest about the boundaries. This post's wrath is aimed at Flickr's API.

Whilst many API services will limit the number of results you can view, this is usually clearly set out in the documentation. For example, most search engines only allow you to view the first thousand results. Flickr however allows you to keep calling results, only to start sending back repeated pages of results for anything over 4,500. This can be clearly seen in the two pictures below from the Flickr API Explorer for The first shows a partial screenshot of the results for the ninth page of 500 results for the tag 'web':

The second shows a partial screenshot of the results for the tenth page of 500 results for the tag 'web':

Basically the same results with a different page number.

I wouldn't mind the restrictions if they were clear. Whilst it may be stated in the small print somewhere, which I still haven't seen, why would you send the same data again and again and claim it as different pages of results? It is still possible to collect all the results by using some of the other arguments, e.g., min and max upload dates, it just means that I had to waste numerous hours collecting data again when the problem came to light. Flickr now owes me one Saturday.

This serves as a useful reminder to all web researchers: Make sure the API is giving you the data it is claiming to give you.

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How Stupid is T-Mobile?

On Thursday I got a letter from T-mobile, complaining about my mobile interenet usage in December:

Basically, in December, I used 7.7Gb of data, rather than the fair use amount of 3Gb.
Should you continue to use more than your fair use amount between 1st January 2009 and 31st January 2009 we will have to reduce your connection speed to 64Kbps...

Whilst T-Mobile are perfectly within their rights, it would probably be in their interests to try and improve their customer service attitude:

1) A look at my data usage over the previous 17 months of the contract would have shown the high usage to be anomally (due to moving house) rather than the norm, and as I regularly have a £100 of my monthly call and text allowance left over you'd think they would be a bit more leniant.

2) If I had continued to use data at the December rate, then telling me on January 22nd would have been too late to prevent me going over their limit in January; thus forcing me to be reduced to 64Kbps.

...and most importantly:
3) My 18 month phone contract ends this week. This letter doesn't persuade me to sign-up with T-mobile for another contract.


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How many tech-bloggers in Premier League clubs?

It has been over a week since my last blog post, the reason being I don't seem to have stopped for a moment. I've had to work on conference papers, maths coursework, attend a webometrics workshop, cross the country to meet with some bibliometricians, and on top of everything move office! More specifically move to Wolverhampton's Molineux Stadium, where the university has some office space in the side of one of the stands. With Wolverhampton currently top of the Championship, promotion to the Premier League next season is a definite possibility, which would probably make me one of the only non-sports bloggers blogging from a Premier League club.

One downside of the move is that there will be far less chance to catch up on work on a Tuesday evening; I doubt very much whether 20,000 Wolverhampton fans will welcome my wandering onto the pitch and requesting they keep the noise down as I have a webometrics paper to write. Personally, I think the least they could do is offer me a seat in the director's box when Norwich City come to town on the February 3rd.

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Thursday, 15 January 2009

Build Web Traffic as you Search!

After forgetting all about server-side programming since first attempting it back in September, I decided to have another go, more specifically using Yahoo BOSS. Yahoo BOSS allows you to send unlimited queries to the Yahoo database; a great tool for a webometrician, if only I could program. Anyway, whilst knocking up a VERY basic search interface: occurred to me that successfully building a search engine into your site is potentially a good way of building traffic. Every time I visit a site from my new search page it will register in the site analytics of the page that I visit that a link has been followed from my web site, a fact that will also be advertised on the increasing number of pages that include a Feedjit-like widget. If people are half as obsessed by their analytics as I am, it is sure to increase traffic.

nb. The 'search engine' is very much a work in progress...

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Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Should you 'Just Leap In'? No.

A couple of days ago TechCrunch posted about Just Leap In, another browser-based virtual world.

After playing about with it for a couple of hours I have come to the conclusion that it is pretty rubbish. Whilst, unlike Google's defunct Lively, you can embed videos and pictures in your room (notice the beautiful picture of my pen), it still suffers from limited customization of objects and avatars, and is room-based rather than world-based. If Google couldn't make this sort of product work, how will 'Just Leap In' succeed...they can't even come up with a decent name! The site doesn't seem to offer anything particularly innovative.

I always seem to like the idea of virtual worlds more than the reality of virtual worlds. Whilst a 3d web may seem like a natural extension of the current web to many, and undoubtedly has csome useful applications, the truth is that many things work better in the flat-document format and most people don't need a 3d web upgrade. Obviously this opinion is waiting to be blown out of the water by a killer-3d-app that everyone will want to have; I'm just not seeing it yet, and every time I see another run of the mill 3d site I become a little more disillusioned.

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Friday, 9 January 2009

Web 5.0 is rising!

There was a very interesting post over at Royal Pingdom about trends in current web terminology using data collected from Google's Insights for Search (I mentioned it in my webometrics reddit but I don't know how many of my blog readers also follow that). What I found most interesting was the slight decline of both "web 3.0" and the "semantic web", terms which are often used synonymously. It is also interesting to note, from looking at Google Insights for Search myself, that "Web 5.0" is a term on the rise (albeit from a very low starting point):

Could it be that the premature discussion of "Web 3.0", "Semantic web", and the over marketing of "Web 2.0" has led to it all being labelled as hype by the public? It remains to be seen what effect it will have on future funding and marketing of the next generation of web services.

As for "Web 5.0", I still think it was described best by Stuart(2007). I have already started to forget most of what I know in case they charge per terabyte of data we need to upload.

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UK ISPs to collect information on every e-mail

According to the BBC:
From March all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will by law have to keep information about every e-mail sent or received in the UK for a year

Whilst I have yet to see the annoying cry of "Nineteen-eighty-four" appear all over the blogosphere, I'm sure it will by the end of the day. What intrigues me is how it will work, especially regarding web-mail accounts. Surely if I use a web-based email account somewhere outside the UK (or most probably the EU), and emailed people whose accounts are also outside the UK, then no ISP would be under any obligation to store the data.

Email is increasingly being replaced by other forms of communication, so if you really wanted to contact certain well-known unsavoury characters without the government finding out just instant message them.

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Thursday, 8 January 2009

Netbooks: The next big thing?

Over the last few days there have been many stories in the newspapers about how netbooks are the next big thing (e.g., The Times, The Daily Telegraph). It's a bit of a bizarre story as netbooks have been a big thing for over a year! The reason they have been gaining increased interest is that M&S and Next (primarily clothing stores) are going to be carrying an Elonex netbook from next month, and the need to diversify and the shrinking of laptops reflects the recession stories they like to peddle. I'm not sure which Elonex model is going on sale for £99, but a £99 model is by no means a recent offering, even if the outlets are.

On a personal note, netbooks are on the up in my house today. After over a month without my Eee PC, due to problems with the plug, my new plug arrived. Admittedly as it is a black plug for a white Eee PC it risks being mocked by the other laptops, but I couldn't care less. I didn't realise how much the netbook had become part of my life until I could no longer access it.

If you haven't bought a netbook yet, you really should. Whilst the Elonex may not be the best choice for you, there are numerous different sizes and specs now available depending on your budget.

[Update 9.30pm]
Well it was charging, but it has since stopped charging again; it seems as though I will have to go to the screw-drivers. Whilst I was feeling disheartened, I have cheered up since having a look at the Eee PC's T91. Asus keep rolling out kit I want (see also Asus' Eee Keyboard).

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Tuesday, 6 January 2009

[Dial2Do]: This is just a...

This is just a post to show the potential of the dial2do program.
Powered by Dial2Do
. Mp3

Above is an automatic post created through the free (it currently just costs the price of a telephone call) Dial2Do telephone service, through which you can send texts, listen to and send emails, record notes for yourself, even update your blog. I just came across the site today on Web 2.0 Guru's site, and it is the first such service I have come across that was free...and hence the first one I have tried.

Whilst above is my first blog post using Dial2Do (which I hadn't thought through before hand), I have also used the service for sending email and texts. The email got through my university's spam system without any problems (a small miracle), and the texts were delivered fairly promptly.

In an effort to test the speed of sending a text via Dial2Do I timed how long it would take to send a typical text to my girlfriend (in this case "Can you please do the washing up") first via Dial2Do, then via the more traditional SMS. For such a short message it took me the same length of time to send the message, approximately 35 seconds. However, whilst I sent the traditional SMS second, it actually arrived 2 minutes before the Dial2Do message. Such a delay may be considered neglible, and would soon disappear if you were sending either longer messages or one message after another.

If you want to know more about the sort of stuff you can do with Dial2Do, it is summarised quite neatly in a picture on the Dial2Do blog. It seems as though I have finally found a service to use up all the call time I get on my phone package!


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Gaza 2.0: If 100,000 people join I will rename all disputed territories Spiderman

As the war in Gaza continues there is a lot of comment in the blogosphere about how the different sides are fighting to get support for their opinions on the web, the so-called war 2.0. Twitterings are flying, pictures are being uploaded to Flickr, videos are uploaded to YouTube, and of course Facebook has the necessary groups of support for both sides:

Whilst on the one hand these new technologies give a voice to views and opinions that may not otherwise be heard (supposedly a good thing...although not always), in many ways it can turn a very bloody event into a spectator sport: you get to wear the colours of your 'team', shout abuse at opposing fans, even use your support as a means for self-promotion (e.g., 'love your group about lots of people dying...come and join my group about lots of people dying'), and finally judge your position on the league table of Facebook group numbers. All from the comfort of your own home.

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Sunday, 4 January 2009

Feedjit: Watching your visitors in real time

If you ever scroll all the way down to the bottom of my blog's over-cluttered side bar you will see a new widget from today: Feedjit. Whilst I have long been addicted to my Google Analytics it has always annoyed me that I can't see the visitors in real time. As such I decided to give Feedjit a try after seeing it on Goodbye Wren's post about a 150% baby.

Now I can just set my Feedjit page as my homepage, sit back, and watch no one turn up with far less effort. In fact the whole world can watch no one turn up on my blog.


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Identity 2.0 ...and how I found it

Whilst I spend more time on the web than the average UK housewife, I spend the vast majority of my time looking at the same sites again and again. In an effort to cast my net a little wider, yesterday I started typing 'web 2.0' into Google Blog Search, sorting the results by date, and reading the most recent postings on the subject. What's great about the term 'web 2.0' is that it is popular enough to produce regular results from numerous different fields, but specific enough to be interesting; the term 'webometrics' makes for a very quiet evening in in comparison.

Anyway, on my 'web 2.0' travels this morning I came across a quite interesting video on the topic of Identity 2.0, an interesting subject that I must admit to not giving enough thought to. It's only 15 minutes long, and well presented, so you really have no excuses for not watching it.


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Saturday, 3 January 2009

Webometric Word Clouds: an unscientific comparison

Whilst contemplating creating word clouds from search engine results(what else do people think about on a Saturday afternoons?) I started to wonder what my thesis would look like as a word cloud. More specifically, would it end up looking like the autobiography for Mike Thelwall? A quick copy and paste of 163 pages of text into Wordle later:

Maybe articles and theses should have a word cloud before the abstract to help users decide at a glance whether it is even worth reading the abstract.

How does my word cloud compare with other recent webometric theses?

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How to become a top tech blogger (in the UK)

Each month Wikio publishes a list of the most influential technology blogs in the UK blogosphere. As my own blog is likely to be a contender for the least influential tech blog in the UK I decided to take time to visit each of the top 30 most influential technology blogs in the UK and draw together a few rules for becoming a top tech blogger.

What should you call your blog?
Anything you like. Whilst there are obvious benefits from the “it does exactly what it says on the tin” approach to blog naming (e.g., Phones Review),’s success clearly shows that your blog name doesn’t even need to be pronounceable to be popular. If you can't think of anything, don't want to pigeon-hole your blog in the longterm, or just want to see your name up in lights, you can always join the 17% of the top 30 who have chosen to name their blogs after themselves.

What makes a good blog post?
Anything goes, from long wordy pieces (e.g., to shorter bite-sized pieces (e.g., Gadgettastic). With billions of internet users out there, there will be millions who prefer each of the different styles, so feel free to blog in the format most appropriate to you.

Should a blog stay on topic?
It makes no difference. Whilst I often worry that my own eclectic mix of blog posts will put people off subscribing to my blog, it seems as though my lack of subscribers is more to do with the quality of the posts than what I am posting about. The most influential technology bloggers have few qualms about posting about anything that crosses their minds: football, politics, music (or is that music as an excuse to post about scantily dressed women?). Unsurprisingly collaborative bloggers are more likely to stay on topic than personal blogs.

How regularly should you blog?
Several times a day, extremely rarely, or somewhere in-between. At one end of the scale you have the collaborative blogs which are more akin to traditional media with numerous writers publishing many stories each day (e.g., TechCrunch UK), whilst other blogs average only one or two posts a month (e.g., Simon Willson). Xlab shows that you can even stop blogging and continue to be listed as one of the top UK bloggers.

Can you make it on your own?
The spirit of the blog as an alternative to big media is alive and well with many of the wikio’s most influential bloggers being individuals, however there is no harm in being part of the traditional media scene: (The BBC's technology blog); The Red Ferret Journal (columnist and feature writer for the Sunday Times); The Guardian Technology Blog (surely no explanation required).

So, in summary:
1. Call your blog something.
2. Post in some format.
3. …at some point.
4. …about something.
5. Buddying-up with a national media organisation won’t do you any harm.

Some would say that an examination of the most influential tech blogs shows that there is no hard and fast rules for becoming a top tech blogger, just write about what you want in your own style, and if people visit they visit. However, I think by following my consise summary readers will have no excuses for not becoming one of the most influential tech bloggers by this time next year...all I need to do is buddy-up with a national media organisation for the complete set.

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Friday, 2 January 2009

Why don't lottery tickets have QR Codes?

Whilst contemplating the current lack of a mass appeal QR code application in my previous post, it occurred to me that they would be brilliant on lottery tickets. It would be extremely simple for a QR code to be generated for each ticket which includes a hyperlink to a dynamically generated web page saying whether or not it is a winning ticket:

Not only would this be much faster for the players than checking half a dozen lucky dips manually, but it would also drive tens of thousands of customers to the national lottery web site; where players could then be enticed to play other national lottery mobile games!

I'm not sure how extra revenue such a scheme would make for national lottery good causes, but I think I could at least expect a gallery in the British Museum named after me :-)

nb. The idea has already generated an extra £2 as I went out and bought the above ticket specifically for this blog post.

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Blog on 2009

The choice of January 1st as New Year's day always annoys me, but as virtually no one else in the Western World questions the choice I reluctantly go along with the general concensus (albeit in the most miserable manner possible). It is, therefore, an appropriate time to think about the year ahead and like so many other bloggers make a few predictions/uneducated-guesses/pointless-meanderings about the world of technology. [Basically a long rambling random selection of my current thoughts on technology summed up in a simple list].

The Good News
1. The N97 takes Nokia back to the top of the pile
At the end of this month my N95 contract will finally be over. The problem I have is that there isn't really a better phone on the market:
- The improvements on the N96 are negligible, and are not worth another 12/18-month contract.
- The G1 is missing a decent camera, GPS, and most importantly a large enough user base to create all those extra applications I want.
- The iPhone...well I just don't understand why anyone would get such an over-hyped, locked-down, touchscreen-only phone.
Whilst the N97 is likely to be the best smartphone on the market in 2009 (whenever it emerges) that is no guarantee of success, but hopefully a move to more austere times in 2009 will be a set-back to Apple, the epitome of style over substance.

2. Distributed social networks will shrink Facebook traffic
I am hoping for a distributed future for social networks; one where I am in control of my account, my data, my applications. Be it a desire for photos of breastfeeding mothers, playing games that infringe intellectual copyright, or pretending to be the president of Guyana. Whilst I don't disagree with any of the decisions Facebook has made on these particular issues, there may on occasion be times that I do disagree with Facebook. If you are on Facebook you have to abide by Facebook's arbitrary rules and the rules of your own country; if you are on a distributed social network you only have to abide by the rules of your own country.

3. Project Kangaroo will hit UK desktops
It was back in 2007 that I first heard about the proposed single on-demand player for BBC, ITV, and Channel 4, and whilst it all seems to have been bad news in 2008 with the Competition Commission complaining about a lack of rivalry, I think 2009 will be the year it moves/jumps forwards. The idea that a rivalry between the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4, is driving innovation in video-on-demand in the UK is best described as 'bollocks'. Obviously the organisations will make comparisons with one another, but they are equally concerned about comparing themselves with international competitors (e.g., YouTube). 2009 will either be the year that the Competition Commission realises this, the Competition Commission fails to realise but bows to public demand for a single player, or the BBC freely share the technology in such a way as to circumvent the Competition Commission's ruling.

The Bad News
4. The general public continue to ignore QR codes
It was also back in 2007 that I first discovered QR codes, and the Sun told the masses all about them. During 2008 the masses have continued to ignore them, and I think 2009 will be much the same. Whilst the Pepsi Max campaign will, no-doubt, increase QR code awareness amongst certain sections of the population, there is not yet a killer application for the mass of the population. The question is whether QR codes will be able to carve out a niche before RFID tags become more widespread, if not it may be a technology that just passes the UK by; the moment of truth probably won't come until 2010.

5. No Google alternative will emerge
I have been disliking Google for many years now, and I don't expect 2009 to see a change in my attitude: no single company should have so much control on what people see on the internet. Yahoo will continue to shrink, Live will slow their loss of market share by throwing money at it, but eventually Google will know everything and control everything you know. Alongside this pessimistic view, it is worth noting that if a markedly better search engine does emerge, and spreads virally as an embedded application in a social networking site (the only way to compete against the Google-do-all-portal), then the Google fortunes could fall over night.

nb. I do realise that January 1st would have been a more appropriate day for such meanderings, but yesterday was spent lounging around watching 'family' movies....why I never went to the cinema to watch "The Shaggy Dog" will forever remain a mystery.

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