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

Friday, 27 February 2009

Does Wolverhampton need a Social Media Cafe?

I have just returned from my second visit to Birmingham's Social Media Cafe, and once again I got to meet a bunch of interesting people from a host of different backgrounds; people I wouldn't usually get to meet in the closed world of academia. However, whilst I enjoy Birmingham's Social Media Cafe, I can't help but wish there was a Wolverhampton equivalent. It's great talking to Birmingham people, but I would also welcome the opportunity to meet some more local people.

With a population of 250,000 Wolverhampton seems likely to be very capable of sustaining its own social media cafe, however I have no idea whether anyone else in the area would be interested in attending/organising such a group. So the question is, is anyone interested in a Wolverhampton Social Media Cafe? In the words of BSMC
"a place for people interested in social media to gather, get acquainted, chat, plot, scheme, and share."

..but this time in Wolverhampton.

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Sunday, 22 February 2009

Government creates 'Director of Digital Engagement' post

There aren't many jobs out there that I covet: Prime Minister, Head of the British Library...that's about it. Or rather, that was it until the government started advertising for a Director of Digital Engagement (via NevilleHobson). All the excitement of social media with the potential to make a real difference to people's lives...and the £120,000 starting salary wouldn't hurt either.

The right-wing have their usual reactionary attitude (via The Telegraph)
Conservative Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said: "Hard pressed families struggling as the recession bites will find it hard to understand how Labour can so freely spend their money on peddling their own propaganda."

Well Francis, when the 'recession bites' it is more important than ever that channels of communication with the government are opened, and [with the exception of myself] you are unlikely to get someone who knows what they are doing for less than £120,000. Maybe the Conservatives would like to take the opportunity to put aside party politics and acknowledge that it is an important role in the future of government.

So, who is your money on as the future Director of Digital Engagement? My money is on Alastair Campbell, recently seen blogging and twittering on a site near you. Whilst I sent him a message on Facebook about an hour ago asking him, he has yet to reply. Other potential candidates? Possibly Charles Leadbeater, but personally I would prefer someone who has their social media feet more firmly on the ground.

Any other suggestions?
[Update 23/02/09: Alastair says 'not a chance'...I hope the government don't just appoint some generic boardroom type]

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Palin v. Biden: Who is the US vice president?

Over three months since the US presidential elections and it is surprising to see that Sarah Palin is still firmly in the public eye. Whilst Joe Biden is only a heartbeat away from being the most powerful man on earth, it is actually Sarah Palin that has people more interested:

Surely if Palin continues at this level of public interest, there is no doubt she will be going for the Republican nomination next time around. You would almost want her to win, just to see what she would do.

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Saturday, 21 February 2009

It's Paddington Bear not Paddington Bare!

Looking at your Google analytics or Feedjit can occassionally provide insights into some very strange minds. Earlier today Google directed someone to my site looking for paddington bear porn:

Once I had gotten over the shock, and taken Paddington to see a local counsellor, I had one question that I knew Google Insights for Search could answer. Who is the fictional bear of choice in the world of porn?

Whilst neither paddington bear porn or rupert the bear porn have enough search volume to produce Google Insights for Search graphs, both winnie the pooh porn and care bear porn do (at this point my knowledge of fictional bears ran out).

Whilst Winnie the Pooh is, without a doubt, the bear of choice in the world of porn, it is pleasing to note that it is seemingly an industry on the decline.

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Friday, 20 February 2009

A Philosophy of Linking: Does The Pirate Bay need a webometrician?

As members of The Pirate Bay stand trial Bill Thompson points out the need for a philosophy of linking:
The Pirate Bay case hinges on what counts as infringement, and whether simply linking to a site is enough to make someone liable, treating a hypertext link to a third-party URL as an endorsement, as something that makes a connection between two web pages or information sources that has real legal significance and weight.

Yet it is nothing of the sort. Ever since Tim Berners-Lee defined the Hypertext Markup Language and its Uniform Resource Locators one fundamental thing has applied - a link is just a link....

Perhaps we need a 'philosophy of linkage' to explore what the use of a link can signify, before the lawyers decide it for us and limit the creative potential of the web through their lack of imagination and understanding.

The theory of linking often comes up as a topic of conversation in webometrics, in much the same way as a theory of citation is discussed in bibliometrics. Unfortunately it often takes a back seat to those webometric areas with more obvious real-world applications, e.g., the creation of web indicators.

Only a couple of months ago a colleague and I started working on a 'Theory of Linking', but other work got in the way and the paper remains unfinished. Who knows, maybe if we had written the paper we could have been the first webometricians to be expert witnesses!

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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Berlin QR Code: Help required

Whilst on a short break to Berlin my girlfriend spotted a QR code:

Unfortunately her 5800 doesn't come with a QR code reader, and she hadn't got around to downloading one. Try as I might, I have been unable to scan the above photo; presumably too much detail in the QR code.

So, anyone know what this particular QR Code says??

[update 20/02/09]
Solved by @staecker in Zurich (
@RobertAyala here we go:  on TwitPic

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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Twitter, Politics, and Looking for Meaningful Metrics

As Twitter seems to be the latest shiny web site that has everyone interested, and with a general election on its way (well, June 2010 at the latest), I decided to see how the political parties have taken to Twitter.

The most simple comparison is between the raw numbers of the parties:
Obviously these numbers don't look good for the Labour Party, not listening and not many followers. They don't even have a single account, but rather two different streams with the same information.

Whilst such comparisons will be made with increasing regularity as the election approaches, for example:
..., we quickly realise we need to take into consideration a far wider variety of Twitter accounts and take into consideration other metrics.

@DowningStreet, the official Twitter channel for the office of the Prime Minister, provides a total different perspective on the Labour Party's fortunes.
If @DowningStreet's Twitter friends were an indication of support, Gordon could expect a landslide victory at the next general election. Unfortunately things are not that simple. As one comment to @DowningStreet shows, people follow for many different reasons:
any chance next week i can have a pic taken outside No.10? im visiting for a few days? i know its cheeky but i had to ask!
Obviously @DowningStree is not the only other UK political Twitterer, many individuals, groups and departments have accounts. All contributing to the complex picture of the UK political landscape.

Twitter potentially offers a lot of useful information about both the attitude of the parties to the electorate, and the electorate to the parties. Unfortunately, as with all webometric studies, for meaningful answers to be arrived at there needs to be distinct methodical steps rather than just a grabbing of raw data:
1) Select appropriate Twitter accounts to answer the research question.
2) Investigate Twitter interactions:
Not only 'do they follow and have followers', but are they ReTweeting comments and Responding to questions directed at them.
3) Investigate the nature of the interactions:
Unfortunately the simplest way of finding out the nature of many of the connection is to analyse the comments, a very long and tedious process.

As with so many things on the web, it would be interesting to investigate, if only one had the time.

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Friday, 13 February 2009

Reflections on BrumTwestival!

Last night I went to the BrumTwestival, both a good cause and an opportunity to find out people's opinions on Twitter. Obviously, like all good bloggers I had my trusty camera phone to photograph the event:

Whilst some would say that I should have probably attempted photography before heading to the bar, I place all blame on the Xda Serra's camera...I never had this trouble with an N95.

As I continue throwing myself head first into an investigation of Twitter, I am still no nearer finding out whether it is has a use not found elsewhere, but the list of uses does continue to grow:
-News service
-Seach engine
-Question answering service
Whilst I'm sure there are lots of people who use Twitter in a work setting, I didn't manage to find any last night; it was mostly just personal use.

nb. Unfortunately the university have informed me that drinking copious amounts of beer and chatting to people in a bar does not conform to their more traditional ideas of research. They will not be refunding my expenses.

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@simonluckylloyd: Why Twitter needs a 'Follow but Hate' option

I have long been saying (well I think I Twittered it a couple of days ago), that what Twitter really needs is an option to Follow someone, but at the same time highlight the fact that you dislike them. This was pushed home to me this morning when I discovered I was being followed by a complete idiot, @simonluckylloyd, whom I can only presume is following me as he thinks I am a fellow Conservative fan.

In politics it is necessary to listen to the opposition so you can point out that they are talking crap, the last thing you want is to have your listening to them seen as an endorsement. There are a host of reasons I don't support the Conservatives, and @simonluckylloyd personifies many of them.

Conservatives love to knock modern Britain, after all, wasn't it all better years ago:

Conservatives hate immigration despite the fact it has contributed to this country for thousands of years, and at the same time Conservatives demand the right to live where they want:

But mostly because Conservatives just aren't nice people:

It is bad enough being thought of as a Conservative, but there are worse feeds I could be following: The Daily Mail, the British National Party (although I don't think they have an account yet). Whilst I am interested in what they are saying, the cost of being associated with them is just too high, unless Twitter allow us to show our dislike.

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Thursday, 12 February 2009

Google and Darwin's Finches: Where's the .com logo?

200 years ago today Charles Darwin was born, one of the most influential figures in science. However, despite being a revolutionary global figure Google gives him a rather weak chocolate-box-painting of a logo:

Even worse, at the time of writing, there is nothing for Darwin at! Whilst I thought it might be due to the time difference, both Google Mexico and Google Canada have the same logo as the UK. Is waiting for the 200th anniversary of Charles Thaxton's birth instead?

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Wednesday, 11 February 2009

One Hundred Updates on Twitter

It has been been almost two weeks since I went to the Birmingham Social Media Cafe and decided that I should give Twitter another look, and throwing myself in head-first I have already reached 100 updates. So has my Twitter time been worth it?

I discovered information I wouldn't have come across any other way:

And made useful contacts I wouldn't have made otherwise:

However there is always a down side.
I have been sidetracked from the social web into the discussion of other interests:

I have had to put up the cruder side of work colleagues:

and, in truth, I have had to accept a lot of twittering noise:

Twitter is not for the easily sidetracked, and the truth is that I am someone who is easily sidetracked. Nonetheless, the experiment shall continue.

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Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Pleasure of Feedjit: Moving beyond the hits

One of the pleasures of Feedjit is you sometimes get to see patterns upfold that are missed in the vast quantities of data you collect with an analytics service such as Google Analytics. Today I spotted this one:

The above information shows me that not only did someone find my post about programming for Flickr in Python, but they found the page useful enough to visit each of the links I had placed. Not merely glancing at the linked-pages, but spending time reading, and probably acting, on them: It was 40 minutes between the visitor's arrival and their final leaving.

Obviously it's nice when a user finds plenty of interest on my site, but I am just as happy to know that I have pointed someone in the right direction.

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Friday, 6 February 2009

Nokia 5800 v. Xda Serra (HTC Touch Pro/MDA Vario IV)

Whenevever I get a new phone my girlfriend decides that she needs one too. Yesterday she picked up her new Nokia 5800 XpressMusic:

It wasn't long before I was coveting the 5800. Whilst by no means as powerful as my recently acquired Xda Serra (or even the N95 which we both previously had), it has the usability (and price tag) that will appeal to the masses.

Every day I seem to find something to curse about the Xda, but to a certain extent that is the consequence of choosing phones which are moving ever closer to the computer end of the appliance-computer spectrum. Whilst I momentarily contemplated exchanging my Xda Serra for a Nokia 5800 (I still have a few days to return the phone), the truth is that I am the sort of user who will take advantage of the Xda Serra's qwerty keyboard and the included Microsoft Office.

The Nokia 5800 is the better phone; the Xda Serra is the better computer. Maybe the N97 will be the best of both.

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Thursday, 5 February 2009

An Unimpressive EThOS from the British Library

One of the hundreds of posts in my feed-reader this morning was about the British Library electronic theses service (via SCIT blog). As my own thesis should be included I decided to indulge in a bit of vanity searching. Result: EThOS has a long way to go.

I would expect my thesis to turn up for the term 'webometrics', in fact it is about the only term for which someone might actually want to read it. Unfortunately the only webometric thesis belongs to Xuemei Li:

My thesis does however turn up for the wholly inappropriate 'bibliometrics':

Seemingly the reason for my appearance under 'bibliometrics' and not 'webometrics' is that 'bibliometrics' appears in my abstract whereas 'webometrics' does not. Whilst this may seem reasonable at first, theorectically the University of Wolverhampton are taking part in the project and their record includes a number of keywords carefully selected me, including 'webometrics'. The British Library also fails to provide a link to my thesis, despite it being scattered over the web like confetti: "Not yet available for download".

Young academics brought up on Google Scholar, with full text searching and links to the numerous copies on the web, are unlikely to see the value in EThOS and its traditional OPAC style. Whilst I'd like to see an electronic thesis online service that seperates the wheat from the chaff, with full text searching and links to the documents, and believe that librarians could aid in retrieval with classification of such documents, this is not what EThOS is currently offering. It's still in Beta, and likely to improve, but it has a frighteningly long way to go and you do wonder whether they should have buddied up with one of the big search engines to produce a more user friendly version.

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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Twitter API Updates: But I still don't like them

Just hours after I wrote a post complaining about the limitations of the Twitter API for researchers, Twitter released two new API features that specifically deal with the data I was collecting!...Coincidence?

Twitter have now released two Social Graph Methods (via Scripting News) that enable you to call a list of a user's friends and followers. Whilst this is far quicker than checking the links between each pair of users, it unfortunately means I will have to write my program again from scratch.

Whilst I welcome the new methods it is still not addressing the fact that Twitter gives preferential treatment to commercial applications whilst lumping researchers together with hobbyists.

Nb. Obviously it is a coincidence, but my site did gain a bit of a stalker yesterday...

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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Sketch Messaging: The Xda Serra (HTC Touch Pro/MDA Vario IV) is growing on me

I didn't immediately warm to the Xda Serra, but today I finally found something it could do that my N95 couldn't: Sketch Messaging!

No longer will my friends suffer random photos in their inboxes, instead they will suffer little sketches by the world's worst artist:
Whilst Microsoft's Notes application allows you to draw pictures with the stylus, it only sends any text and drawings as an attachment in the obscure .pwi format. However with the MiTo Team Paint application you can use the stylus to knock up a little picture, save it as a bitmap, then just insert it in a multimedia message and send it off to anyone with a camera phone!

nb. In case you's meant to be a cat.

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Stupid Twitter: Don't researchers deserve more than a second-class service?

I have never particularly seen the point of Twitter; it's the background noise I can do without. However, as an all-thing-web-2.0 researcher I recognise that there needs to be further investigation of how people are using it. Unfortunately Twitter doesn't seem to think so; yesterday they turned down my request to be upgraded from the extremely limited 100 API requests per hour.

After visiting Birmingham Social Media Cafe last Friday, and noticing the prevalence of Twitter names, I thought it would be interesting to get an overview of the Birmingham Social Media Cafe Twitter network: Had clusters formed? Did these clusters reflect different interests?...the usual sort of academic questions. In no time I had collected the Twitter IDs of 50 members of BSMC, and written a program that would check which of the members were following one another (using Twitter's 'friendship exist' method).

Unfortunately, to test every combination of names requires the sending of 50*49=2,450 requests. So even this extremely small scale study would require the program to run over 24hrs!! Last time I had collected data using Twitter's API there seemed to be no such limits. Whilst Twitter do offer the opportunity to be placed on a 'whitelist' that allows you 20,000 requests per hour, "...we only approve developers for the whitelist", and seemingly by their negative response they mean the distinctly commercial type of developer.

As the explanation link suggests, I was turned down because, as a researcher, I should be asking for the second-class data-mining feed:
It returns 600 recent public statuses, cached for a minute at a time. You can request it up to once per minute to get a representative sample of the public statuses on Twitter
This is the service Twitter have decided is most appropriate for "researchers and hobbyists", albeit one that would fail provide the sort of network information that I am interested in. A distinctly second-class service in comparison to the one offered to commercial developers.

I can understand if online services such as Twitter don't want to go out of their way to help academics, but it is rather disappointing that we are penalised for doing public research rather than chasing money. Whilst I will eventually be able to find a 24hr slot to run this particular program, it's a shame that I won't be able to run more large scale studies.

[Update: within hours of this post the Twitter API was updated, but no specific improvements for academics]

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