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

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Computing needs a bit of that Zara touch

On Tuesday my computer started making strange noises when it was turned on, and only half the time did the BIOS kick in properly. Yesterday it stopped working totally: the lights were on but no one was home. As I spent the whole of yesterday tramping around Wolverhampton and Birmingham I discovered that it is actually quite hard to find a half-decent desktop these days. Seemingly the way PC World makes itself look good is by DSG International (the parent company) putting worse computers in the affiliated Currys.Digital.

In the end, with lots of helpful advice from the Twitter community (i.e., 'Buy a Mac'), I got myself a Dell Studio 540:

It's a mid-range PC, nothing too fancy, but it should keep my web crawling going for a couple of years.

I was surprised to find, however, that Wi-Fi still isn't standard in desktops! Which meant I was forced to whip out a screwdriver and start taking my PC apart before I had even turned it on! This is just madness.

If the computer shops in this country want to survive the recession then they need to find a way of getting new stock in the shops quicker than ever. There is nothing enjoyable walking around a shop looking at stock which was released 12 months earlier; people more patient than myself will just buy a computer online. Whilst PC World seemingly have dozens of sales assistants (doing not a lot), for some reason they hadn't even got around putting the computer I bought on the shelves yet! It's the shops that fill their stores with things people want that will survive.


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Monday, 27 April 2009

A Wolverhampton Network Diagram: It's a local affair

A couple of posts ago I was complaining about how annoying my job was as I tried to draw conclusions from the jumbled mess of environmental technology websites. Today's post points out that it isn't always such a jumbled mess.

I have just done a far smaller (and less scientific) data collection for a presentation I am doing in Wolverhampton tomorrow [click on picture to enlarge]:

It is a link diagram of a few web sites in Wolverhampton and the surrounding area to illustrate the sort of work my research group does.

What is noticeable from a webometric perspective is how many of the web sites included in the study are actually connected: you can link anywhere in the world, but the web is primarily a local affair.

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Thursday, 23 April 2009

Porn, Beer, then back to Porn: Another Feedjit Story

As I have mentioned before, I love the little stories that you can follow on Feedjit. At the end of a long day this little story caught my attention:

Someone in Canada arrives on my site looking for a 'porn browser', he (or she) gets sidetracked by a story about beer for a little while, but half an hour later their mind returns to porn. Presumably there is little else to do in Corner Brook.


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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Boyle v. Obama: Combining mainstream media with social media

Obama may be the most powerful man in the world, but in the most-talked-about stakes he is currently way behind Susan Boyle on Google's Insights for Search (red line = "Obama"; blue line = "Boyle"):

It's not just the UK that is talking about her, worryingly it's great swathes of the world!

Basically, there's a woman who isn't much to look at who can sing. That's it. Nothing more to see. Move along.

However, somewhere between mainstream media and social media the masses have been whipped into a frenzy. Millions are seemingly trying to show how un-shallow they are by loving Susan Boyle...because of her un-looks.

The coupling of mainstream media with social media is amazing; neither would have spread the message as far or fast on their own. Now we just need to find a way of harnessing that potential, to share information that is a bit more important than unattractive women can sing.

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I Hate My Job: The Web is Just a Jumbled Mess!

At the moment I am investigating the linking between 1337 environmental technology web sites. Of the 1337 sites, 751 nodes create one large network:

You spend days sorting a list of URLs, collecting data, finding errors, starting again...and at the end you just have a big ball of string.

A webometrician's job is to draw conclusions from such a jumbled mess: I hate my job.

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Friday, 17 April 2009

Random Thoughts on Community Radio

Rather than the title of this post referring to my random thought on community radio, it reflects the fact that this evening my random thoughts were being broadcast on the local community radio:
Looking for a guest for tonight's Wolverhampton Politics Show after someone had to pull out. Any takers? :) 8pm-9pm on 101.8 WCR FM
Whilst anyone who knows me would have said "you'd be better off with dead air or possibly a goat", the ephemeral ties of Twitter were enough for a foot in the door. At least two old ladies and a cat probably got to hear my opinions:
1) Pirate Bay - No sympathy.
2) Email smear campaign - move on you hypocritical Tories and journalists.
3) Green car subsidies - dislike cars, but as people are selfish, green cars are probably the best we can hope for.

I have never really given much thought to community radio before, but it immediately appeals to me (non-commercial ventures generally do).

What the Wolverhampton Community Radio really needs, however, is a tech slot...or more specially a Black Country Social Media Cafe Radio Show! Surely the BCSMC have enough knowledge to fill an hour each week.

Why broadcast in the web 2.0 world? Because it would be nice if the social media cafe could reach beyond the technorati.

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Thursday, 16 April 2009

Twitter Bathos: When 140 characters are just too many!

At the moment all my blog posts seem to be about Twitter and take quotations from the OED...nonetheless...bathos:
2. Rhet. Ludicrous descent from the elevated to the commonplace in writing or speech; anticlimax.
Twitter is the darling of the liberal media these days, and when liberal Clement Freud died yesterday it wasn't surprising that the Guardian chose to inlude a Twitter comment from Stephen Fry. Whilst turning to a Twitter comment may seem a "ludicrous descent", there are those who manage to contain the whole descent within the 140 character limit:
Maybe there should be a campaign to shorten then length of twitterings.

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Sunday, 12 April 2009

Twittering: A sign of mental illness?

It is difficult not to think of narcissism when thinking about Twitter, after all, it is filled with people answering the question: "What are you doing?". It almost forces us to look at ourselves. According to the OED, one meaning of narcissism is:
2. Psychol. The condition of gaining emotional or erotic gratification from self-contemplation, sometimes regarded as a stage in the normal psychological development of children which may be reverted to in adulthood during mental illness.
Such a definition would seem to equally apply to Twitter. Whilst I'm not aware of anyone who gets 'erotic gratification' from Twitter, I'd think that there are plenty of them joining the majority who gain the emotional gratification. Why else are people there if they are not getting some sort of emotional gratification?

Shouldn't most of the people on Twitter have outgrown the emotional gratification of self-contemplation by now? If we continue to consider narcissism a mental illness shouldn't the government be shutting Twitter down before it sucks more people in? Or is it just too late as Gordon and Obama join us in enjoying picking fluff from our respective navels? to 'Tweet' this...mmmm....emotional gratification of self-contemplation....


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Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Black Country Social Media Cafe: It's better than Birmingham's!

Yesterday was the first open Black Country Social Media Cafe, and in my less-than-humble opinion it was a resounding success! Whilst there are things we can improve upon, thanks to the collective efforts of a number of people, I think the Black Country has given the Social Media Cafe format its own spin and the result is far more than a clone of the Birmingham Social Media Cafe.

Rather than the give-em-a-coffee and shove-em-in-a-room approach of the Birmingham Social Media Cafe (which nonetheless work remarkably well), we have tried to create a more structured event. The planned timetable was:
2.30pm People start arriving, mingling and drinking coffee.
3.00pm "Thanks for coming" and "a few words from our sponsor"
3.05pm Chris Unitt and Pete Ashton give a short talk on what they got from the SxSW conference.
3.20pm People get back to mingling, dinking coffee, and reflecting on the talk.
4.30pm Everyone off home.

As with all the best laid plains, it didn't quite end up like that. I have been reliably informed that I managed to get the name of the sponsor wrong (I should have said Clarity Digital Marketing), and then the talk went on a lot longer expected. However, as the length of the talk was driven mainly by questions from the floor, it can only be a good thing!

The mid-session talk/panel is definitely a feature we want to keep, although we will try and give people a bit more time to mingle and reflect on the topics afterwards. It was a shame that a few had to rush off, but as the last stragglers didn't leave until 5.50pm there was plenty of scope for further discussion.

So, a success! The second one is planned for Tuesday 12th May, so make sure you sign up and let us know of any topics you would be interested in hearing discussed.

Nb. For those of more quantitative tastes, there were 23 people yesterday, but with the positive feedback I'm hoping for more next time.

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Friday, 3 April 2009

Twitter: The Strength of Ephemeral Ties?

Whilst shaving this morning I was listening to the Oxford Internet Institute podcast Facebook: The Strength of Weak Ties, this got me thinking about the nature of Twitter ties. The title, The Strength of Weak Ties, comes from Granovetter's seminal paper of the same name, emphasising the importance of acquaintances as well of friends: close friends often have access to the same networks of people and information, whilst acquaintances have access to a different set of people and information. Although Twitter includes strong and weak ties, it also includes a new sort of relationship: the 'ephemeral' ties.

People are regularly contacted on Twitter by strangers in response to comments they have posted. If I mention that I am doing some programming in Python a stranger may ask what I am programming; if I say I am off to a conference, a stranger may point out that they are going to; if I ask a question, a stranger may answer.

Such connections are weaker than 'weak ties' as there is no permanence to the connection, they are transitory or 'ephemeral'. Whilst such connections are not new on the Internet, has any other technology emphasised the importance of ephemeral ties to such an extent as Twitter?

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Thursday, 2 April 2009

Internet Explorer 8 Virtual Q&A: Time for the bespoke browser?

I have just spent the last hour having a chat with some people at Microsoft about Internet Explorer 8 (using Tangler).

Whilst I first tried IE8 over a year ago, I have been a pretty solid Firefox user since then; Firefox wasn't a deliberate choice, just something I floated into over time.

I'm not too sure why I was invited along to the chat (everyone there was far more technical than me), but it did force me to think about web browsers. My conclusion:
IE 8 is full of bells and whistles, and whilst the technorati may make use of them, does the average user? Are they actually becoming a hindrance to the average user? Not only slowing down the program, but adding confusion to the browsing experience.

I think it is time to move beyond the one browser fits all model. At a minimum I would like to see Microsoft develop two browsers: IE Simple, and IE Professional. But what I would really like to see is a bespoke browser. You go to the Microsoft site, select the browser features you want included, and it compiles the IE browser for you.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Social Web and a Leicester Hotel Owner

People realise that a static web site is not enough to promote their business, but that doesn't help them embrace the social web. There are a multitude of different social media technologies available, and the person needs to select the right ones, learn how to use them, and understand the culture of the different communities using the different technologies. Unfortunately the successful adoption of social media takes time; there are no quick fixes.

I have just spent the last two hours on the phone to a friend discussing how he can make the most of social media to promote his hotel.

The Old Approach
His hotel had a web site, but it didn't particularly do much for the promotion of the hotel. Whilst there are design issues (don't even think about looking at it with Mozilla), the primary reason the web site failed was that people didn't come across it. If you Googled Campbells Hotel the site would be number one, but looking for a hotel in Leicester? No chance.

The New Approach
Engage with the online community, and let the world see more than a brochure. As such I have encouraged him to revolve his new online presence around a blog (, incorporating other technologies such as Twitter (@Campbellshotel) where appropriate. Whilst such an approach is natural to those involved in social media, it's a big leap and a big commitment for someone who has little experience of social media.

The Philosophy
Whilst I struggled to explain how the social technologies could help, and that it wasn't about sending Tweets to everyone you came across; his moment of epiphany came with the comment:
"It's like liberal evangelism"
Exactly. It's not about trying to force doctrine down someone's throat, it's about demonstrating it in the way you live your life; it's not about Tweeting adverts at everyone, it's about demonstrating the way you run your business.

Nb. If you have any advice/suggestions for a small business owner trying to make use of social media I'm sure commenting on his blog would be appreciated.

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I Hate April Fool's Day...but I like the Guardian-Twitter story

I have never been a fan of April Fool's day. It's not that I have been emotionally scarred by some outrageous prank, I just don't get the idea of pleasure from making someone else feel foolish. However, I'm in a bit of a quandary today as I did enjoy the Guardian's Twitter story: Twitter Switch for Guardian, after 188 years of ink.

Maybe it's time I reassess my dislike of April Fool's jokes. A couple of people have been commenting that the Guardian story is 'too bleeding obvious', but that is why I liked it. It's not at any one's expense, merely a humorous commentary on today's society, including a jibe at the idiotic Daily Mail:
"...the Daily Mail recently pioneered an iPhone application providing users with a one-click facility for reporting suspicious behaviour by migrants or gays"
If all April Fool's were like this, the day would be much nicer.


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