Archive for the ‘social computing’ Category

Twitterdee and Twitterdum


John Tenniel’s illustration reproduced on Wikipedia

There are two ways I think about the development of twitter. One is to think of it as an extension of the status messages people set in instant messaging applications like MSN Messenger. Instead of the bland ‘online’ or ‘away’ followed by one’s screen moniker people started changing their names to convey more about what was happening, or just for humorous reasons. This works, for people on your buddy-list but as we saw with the growth of blogging and live journal it’s often easier to broadcast than to choose laboriously which friends should see something. This sense that twitter was all about broadcasting brief status messages is made obvious in Jack Dorsey’s original sketch for the service that became twitter.

twttr sketch” by Jack Dorsey on flickr

Twitter is not alone in providing an easy and effective way to broadcast your status to your friends. Most social network sites also provide this facility. Facebook does, and it provides an application that will automatically copy any status updates (called tweets) that you put on twitter onto Facebook.

That brings me to the other way of thinking about twitter. Twitter tweets are limited to the size of an SMS message so that the updates can be sent naturally from mobile-phones. That would be 160 characters but I think because of smaller SMS sizes in the USA it’s an 140 character limit. So one can also see twitter as the origin of micro-blogging, not just using tweets for status updates but to use them for anything you can blog about in 140 characters. This artful use of a status broadcast service lives happily alongside status updates, because the distinction between a status updates and other things one might blog about is indistinct, but recently the difference caught me out.

Death by Recit” by John and Keturah on flickr

Marcia Adair (aka The Omniscient Mussel) ran her #operaplot competition for the second time. I missed it first time but this time had a star judge and great prizes. The idea is to summarise opera plots as tweets, i.e. to fit the entire plot into 140 characters including the #operaplot tag. You can browse through the amazing results on twitter, or collated into a long list by The Omniscient Mussel here: and I posted all mine in a blog post earlier. Lots of the summaries people came up with were funny, several limericks, some summaries of the whole ring cycle, etc. For one humorous one I thought I’d do the  first opera I remember going to see, Philip Glass’ Akhnaten at the English National Opera. I went with my Mum back in 1984. Now if I’ve got the date right I was 19 at the time and my strongest memory is of the huge sand stage on which the new city that Akhnaten builds was slowly constructed in miniature. Oh, and that Akhnaten was a hermaphrodite. He’s sung by a counter-tenor, but as a young lad I didn’t know that so all I saw was a topless soprano on stage in a loincloth. Imagine my surprise when the loincloth comes of (to make way for ceremonial robes if I recall correctly) and he’s definitely a man! Anyway this could all be my memory playing tricks on me, but here’s the 130 character plot summary I cam up with for Akhnaten and posted to twitter:

Singer with gorgeous tits and loincloth builds new city to new god on sandpit stage. Off comes loincloth and there’s a willy too!

I was immersed in the fun of The Omniscient Mussel’s #operaplot quiz so I failed to remember that this tweet of mine would be picked up and would automatically become my Facebook status. I’m sure you can imagine the consternation of my present (and past) colleagues that I’m connected to on Facebook!

The Omniscient Mussel hasn’t lost the twitter #operaplot


I’d not seen this before but The Omniscient Mussel has just kicked off the second run of her competition to summarise opera plots into twitter tweets. That gives you 140 characters minus the obligatory #operaplot tag.

Danielle De Niese is a judge (hence the picture at the head of this post) and the prizes include a pair of top price tickets and a complimentary bottle of champagne to the first night of Glyndebourne’s iconic production of Guilio Cesare on May 22nd – featuring Sarah Connolly in the title role and Danielle De Niese as Cleopatra and 4 Box seats to a ENO’s new production of Cosi fan tutte directed by Abbas Kiarostami. How cool is that? I’ve made a start – jump in!

You can search recent ones here: and here are mine so far (sorry about the rude word in the Akhnaten synopsis) …

1) Ralph Vaughan Williams, Riders to the Sea.

5 of 6 sons drowned. Last son off to market in storm. Whoops, all 6 now drowned! Time to relax about the sea.

2) Benjamin Britten, Peter Grimes.

Sailor abuse; sea; sailor abuse; sea; teacher abuse; sea; child abuse; sea; death; sea

3) George Frideric Handel, Acis and Galatea

♀ ♥ shepherd. Shepherd ♥ ♀. Giant ♥ cherry lipped ♀. Giant kills shepherd. ♀ = divinity. God turns dead shepherd into fountain.

4) George Frideric Handel, Acis and Galatea, recent Royal Opera House production.

Stunning ♀ amazing voice has to wear rag-doll wig and perform next to lithe dancer in sheer bodystocking

5) Philip Glass, Akhnaten

Singer with gorgeous tits and loincloth builds new city to new god on sandpit stage. Off comes loincloth and there’s a willy too!

========== EDIT ==========

And another …

6) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Così Fan Tutte

Women eh! You recon? You’re on. ‘Told ya.

========== EDIT ==========

And another …

7) Antonín Dvořák, Rusalka

Fishy tale of bored teen seeking love. Čury mury fuk. Teen silenced, but her chatty lover lacks constancy. Watery graves for all.

========== EDIT ==========

And another (trying to fit in with the current #operaplot craze for limericks) …

8 ) Georges Bizet, Carmen

Men are thinking of sin/as factory girl takes a spin/Love is all bull/the cave only half full/& she’s dead to the cheering within

========== EDIT ==========

Last one, written after getting home from Sunday night’s final performance of the Cambridge Handel Opera Group’s production of

9 ) George Frideric Handel, Ariodante

Genevra loves and dad approves? Too happy for an #operaplot so much ado about nothing brings sadness and death before virtue triumphs again

Why I don’t like Facebook


Adult Female Phidippus Mystaceus” by Opo Terser on flickr

I like things that do one thing and do it well, but the history of the internet seems to pendulum between specialisation and generalisation, between divergence and convergence. I wasn’t around for the beginning but I do remember when even search and download was split between different niches (WAIS, Gopher, FTP, etc). Then as the internet was popularised some ISPs provided a walled garden so that all your internet needs might be provided by one site, the AOL (or other) portal. But as the usefulness of the web continued to grow that model was impossible. The web itself moved from and information sharing application to a platform and so called Web 2.0 saw lots of great social applications developed on the web. But this complexity seems to have baffled and people increasingly seem to use one portal, often Facebook, for everything. I can share photos on Facebook (though I prefer flickr) , I can publish my status on Facebook (though I prefer twitter), heck if me and the recipients are both on Facebook I can send email on Facebook (though I prefer Outlook). I do use Facebook; there are some friends I keep up with just that way, but I wish it wasn’t taking over so much.

If I’m right that this is a pendulum I shouldn’t have to wait long before a new bread of specialised applications break us out of the Facebook centric world. Bring it on.

Cory Doctorow’s inaugural Cambridge Business Lectures talk


“Pirate Riley. Aaarrhh Me Hearties!”
by Paul Sapiano

Ken and I have been thinking a lot about Digital Rights Management (DRM) recently. When we did the zCast project about IP datacasting over digital broadcast networks we were forever being asked about DRM, and we’d reply that it wasn’t our area of expertise. Eventually though we heard the message, and we’ve started to think how one might contrast the various models people have of digital rights: technical models, commercial models, economic models, legal models, and (most lacking) models of user’s expectations. So I was excited to find that Cory Doctorow was speaking locally on “Life in the Information Economy”. The first two sentences of the abstract were particularly intriguing: “We made a bet, some decades ago, that the information economy would be based on buying and selling (and hence restricting copying of) information. We were totally, 100 percent wrong, and now the world’s in turmoil because of it.”

So off I went to here the first lecture in the Cambridge Business Lectures series.

Cory’s Preamble

We got a great taste of Cory’s style from the first two sections of the talk, the preamble. He started by reading a paragraph of boilerplate legalese that relinquished all his rights over the talk into the public domain. Then he recited another piece of legalese starting: “By listening to these words, you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all non-negotiated agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, …”. Very funny.


Cory started the body of the talk by pointing out that PCs and the internet combined are the perfect copying machines. He went on to point out three approaches used by the commercial content industry to ameliorate (or subvert, or ignore) this fact.

Firstly Cory trashed DRM. Again this was a very humorous dismissal. Cory gave a very brief history of cryptography starting with a simple model enumerating the three parties involved: the sender, the receiver, and the attacker. Before the war the sender and the receiver shared a cipher which the attacker didn’t know, and as long as the attacker couldn’t work it out then encrypted messages stayed secret. But experiences at Bletchley during the war taught us that you can only protect a cipher if you are cleverer than the attacker, and that’s hard to guarantee. So instead we now do our cryptography out in the open. We enlist the minds of the cleverest security experts we can find to publicly discuss (and hence fix) our encryption systems and then use public keys systems. But (claimed Cory) DRM turns this all on its head. In the model we become the attackers, and the key is secret, though it is stored with the content in our living room. Put like that it does sound a bit daft! Cory went on to tell the tale of the young hacker who having broken one industry standard was asked to overcome BluRay encryption. He didn’t have a player and so asked for a dump of the bytes at a moment of playing. Then by simply going through the bytes and looking for the correct length key he eventually (i.e. in a few hours) broke the encryption. This story is almost too simple to be true but it served Cory’s purpose – if BluRay can be broken by a smart youngster called Muesli64, what hope has any DRM system ever?

Secondly Cory rubbished filtering. This was dispatched swiftly. If we cannot filter email for SPAM, a commercially important problem perplexing armies of brainy people, how on earth could content sites filter their content for illegal breaches of copyright?

Thirdly Cory got quite cross about takedown notices. This ‘idea’ crops up repeatedly but involves persistent offenders having their internet connection severed. Cory felt this was just mad – akin to trying to remove a few drops of food colouring from a swimming pool. Luckily his anger did lead to another humorous suggestion. How about making the current three strikes rule (three notifications of copyright breaches and your internet connection is cut) symmetric? I.e. if a content company make three false accusations then we turn up at their head office with huge wire cutters and cut through their internet connection.

Social Potential

This last point – Cory’s incredulity about the proposal of takedown notices – turned out to be the centrepiece of the whole talk. Cory’s real conclusion was that connection to the internet is much much more important than content consumption. He made the point (as so many of us have made so many times before) that the internet is about people not content. Some of this put me strongly in mind of Clay Shirky’s recent book. Cory felt that the real power of the internet was “nuking the cost of getting people together to do stuff”.

Cory and Clay have a real gift for distilling the wisdom many of us have gleaned about internet use into a wonderfully insightful and thought provoking aphorisms. Cory quoted a few in his talk (for example Tim O’Reily’s “the problem isn’t piracy it’s obscurity”) and finished this part with one of my favourites asides when he joked “if you make people choose between the internet and re-runs of Police Academy they will”.

Copy Native

Cory did touch on what it might be like to build a living as a copy native artist. He gave a brief history of the recorded music industry starting with performers who were reluctant to give over their direct relationship with their audience by moving into the studio through to the industry formed primadonnas who are reluctant to go on stage at all. Cory actually saw Madonna as an example of someone who gets it. The importance she places in her touring contract reflects the realisation that every time a song of hers is pirated the value associated with seeing her live increases.


Cory was a brilliant speaker and I’d go out of my way to hear him again. Don’t read these notes as a high fidelity synopsis of his talk; they are the distillation from my notes. The talk is available online – both as a video and a transcript. I haven’t covered what he said about the distribution of internet use across the world (“the internet doesn’t disappear, the latency just gets bigger”) or about tagging (“a collaborative game without rules”) but I’d like to finish with my favourite analogy of the whole evening. While reflecting on the movie industry view that piracy could kill the blockbuster movie Cory asked a question. The reformation killed the European programme of cathedral building, but did it kill religion?

How bureaucratic is Wikipedia and is it getting worse?


Tomá Gabzdil Libertíny‘s “Honeycomb Vase” taken by annamatic3000

Recently I posted an entry bemoaning the recent ‘criticisms’ I’d heard of Wikipedia, and in particular correcting Matthijs den Besten‘s graph from his talk “Wikipedia: the organizational capabilities of a peer production effort” to show that rather than increasing (as his graph sort of implies) the actual number of Wikipedia administrators per page has fallen over 50% from from 0.000526  at the end of the third quarter of 2002, down to 0.000191 at the end of the third quarter 2006.

Three things are causing me to doubt the implications I drew.

1) Matthijs left a thought provoking rebuttal in the comments section of my post

2) I’ve just finished Clay Shirky‘s “Here Comes Everybody” in which he says “Wikipedia, which looks like a reference work to the average viewer, is in fact a bureaucracy mainly given over to arguing. The articles are the residue of the argument.” (p. 279)

3) Both Matthijs and Clay refer to two recent papers from Fernanda Viégas (and colleagues): “The Hidden Order of Wikipedia” (HCII 2007) and “Talk Before You Type: Coordination in Wikipedia” (HICSS-40, 2007)

Matthijs makes two points. Firstly he corrects me by pointing out that although the number of administrators per page may be falling, the number of administrators overall is increasing, and “size matters”. Quoting some possible failures he suggests that the co-ordination required to keep all the administrators harmonized cannot be done informally for large numbers. But these are still volunteers, the structure is bottom up. Fernanda borrows the principle of “Collective Choice Arrangements” from Elinor Ostrom‘s analysis of “successful self-governed common-pool resources communities”. Collective-choice arrangements mean that most of the individuals affected by the rules of a community should be able to change those rules, and that the cost of altering the rules should be small.

There is one fragment of Matthijs comment that crystallises my objection: “provided we can equate administrators with managers”; or, as one of the slides in Matthijs’ talk was titled,  “Wikipedia as a firm”. I’m not comfortable with that. Luckily Fernanda doesn’t want to go that far either. In her HCII 2007 paper “The Hidden Order of Wikipedia” she says of Wikipedia’s Featured Article (FA) process: “the FA endeavour starts to sound very much like a modern-day enterprise workflow process. It is not, however.”

Matthijs’ second point is interesting too. He points out that

>>> Further, it would seem likely that many of the articles in the long tail of the encyclopedia are dormant. That is, they have reached a satisfactory quality, are read relatively infrequently and are hardly changed at all. Sure, those articles won’t require much bureaucratic interventions. However, what matters more in perceptions of bureaucracy is the likelihood that someone who edits a page is rebuffed by someone else (e.g. ratio edits/reverts) or the likelihood that people encounter papers that are restricted (e.g. percentage of top 100 articles in terms of page views that are locked). <<<

This is interesting. One can imagine measures that would capture reader’s and occasional editor’s perception of Wikipedia bureaucracy. I’m uncomfortable with Matthijs’ conjecture that the dormant articles are the unread ones, but I suppose their is logic there. It is only a small proportion of readers who may edit a page, so no readers implies no editors, which is what we’d mean by dormant. But an article could become dormant through acceptable quality being reached, and still attract readers. It would be interesting to see the graph done in Matthijs’ presentation but done with one of these measures instead of the number of administrators overall: the ratio of edits to reverts, the likelihood that an edited page is locked soon after, etc. Matthijs’ other measure, “the likelihood that people encounter papers that are restricted (e.g. percentage of top 100 articles in terms of page views that are locked)”, doesn’t seem so telling. I’d expect contentious subjects to be more likely to lead to a locked article and also to be more popular among readers.

Clay’s point I just don’t get. Saying that the articles in Wikipedia are the by-product of the arguments seems like saying that Fabergé exists to employ jewellers, rather than to make jewellery. He does have a neat turn of phrase though.

The organisation of Wikipedia is clearly more complex than I had appreciated. But does that mean it’s less like the anarchist utopia I naively imagined, and more like a large corporation? I think not.

I’ll be getting my Thursdays from a banana


Camel” by bgiguere2

Like many programmers I have a long list of programming languages that I’ve been meaning to try, meaning to master, or just meaning to dust off and revisit. For example my boss wants me to check out F#. In fact lots of the people at work are using F# on an increasing variety of projects. For some folk this is clearly a great idea. Take Ralf for example. Ralf’s work often relies on applying clever Bayesian models to new problem domains. When Ralf codes the mathematical model and something doesn’t work he needs to deduce whether it’s something with the model or something in its translation into code that went wrong. So a language like F# that moves the implementation close to the maths without sacrificing the ability to call rich libraries is perfect for Ralf. But most of my code is user interface or (or data handling at present) so I doubt I’d see the same advantage. Still, F# is high up on my ‘to try’ list.

Another entry is Processing. I’m increasingly doing lots of data visualization work and some of the most beautiful interactive visualizations I encounter on the web are written in Processing. But I am a tad confused (not least by if it is called Processing or Proce55ing). As I understand it Processing is a cut down Java that lets designers approach programming in a sketchbook style. But I can code full Java so why would I do that? Wouldn’t it be like putting stabilisers or training wheels on my racing bike? Possibly not; it looks like the iterative nature of the Processing environment is its power. So that’s on my list too.

But the catalyst for this post is Perl. I did go through a brief Perl phase back in the late nineties, but I never got beyond the struggling phase. I remember once working for several hours on a VRML file manipulation script in Perl before I finally got so stuck that I didn’t mind revealing my lack of knowledge and asking for help. At the time we had John Dent (aka Denty) interning in my group so I popped my head up over the divide between our desks and explained what I was trying to do. Denty started typing at the command prompt, and one line of Perl later he hit return. The computer thought for a few seconds and out popped the answer I needed. One line of Perl may give the impression it was a brief script, but IIRC it was a few hundred characters long. Wow. So Perl has been on my ‘to try and master’ list for a decade now.

So what bumped it up? I’ve just finished Clay Shirky‘s book “Here Comes Everybody“. There’s lots to say about this excellent book, so I’ll weave it into more posts. Today it had me laughing on the train – and it is rare that a work book has you laugh out loud in public. It was the bit where Clay is recalling his days as a Perl programmer. Here are the two passages that had me LOLing.

>>> Where, [the AT&T engineers] asked, did we get our commercial support for Perl? We told them we didn’t have any, which brought on yet more shocked reactions: We didn’t have any support? “We didn’t say that,” we replied. “We just don’t have any commercial support. We get out support from the Perl community.”

It was as if we’d told them, “We get our Thursdays from a banana” <<< (p. 256)

>>> Perl is a viable programming language today because millions of people woke up today loving Perl and, more important, loving one another in the context of Perl. <<< (pp. 257-258 )

Transparent Wikipedia visualization


At the coffee machine the other day I was talking to John Winn about my forthcoming intern project with Linda Becker, and about the new word tree visualization on Many Eyes that I found. Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenburg gave a riveting PARC talk about Many Eyes which I picked up from Andrew‘s post on his Information Aesthetics blog. In it they mention the surprising (to them) number of text based data sets (e.g. Shakespeare plays) which were uploaded to Many Eyes. But Many Eyes only had one simple text visualization – the tag cloud; so Fernanda and Martin locked themselves away for a week and brainstormed hundreds of text visualizations. Then their team implemented the best one of them, the word tree. I do like the text tree, here’s how it is described on the Many Eyes site:

A word tree is a visual search tool for unstructured text, such as a book, article, speech or poem. It lets you pick a word or phrase and shows you all the different contexts in which it appears. The contexts are arranged in a tree-like branching structure to reveal recurrent themes and phrases.

Martin gives a number of examples of its use on Many Eyes, from political speeches, through literary texts, to a funny example of the text people use in lonely hearts ads:

Back to the subject of this post. John wasn’t familiar with Fernanda’s work visualizing the history of Wikipedia articles. So I explained History Flow, the 2003/2004 work building visualizations like this one to show the build up of different authors’ edits of a Wikipedia article. History Flow is written up in a brilliant CHI paper that shows just how much Wikipedia behaviour can be gleaned from studying these diagrams.

But the diagram, the visualization, is separate from the page itself. One couldn’t stare at the diagram and thus read the source article. It turns out that John had done his own visualization of Wikipedia pages. John reasoned that edits to a page can be thought of as a quality metric, i.e. a piece of text that survives multiple edits is likely to be of reasonable quality. Here’s that example of John’s idea again:

John describes the idea on his Wikipedia user page : the age of the text is reflected by its colour so that standard text is over two years old whereas text that is only ten minutes old is rendered on a red background. I’m not sure this is the best way to do it – the red colouring both draws attention to the new text and also makes it harder to read, but there is something interesting about the data visualization not obstructing one’s reading of the source article.

You can say "social" on the radio


“What a radio looks like, 2” from genmon

A few years back we were doing a project (zCast) looking at novel uses of radio spectrum to deliver datacast content to mobile devices. One of the things that struck me was the incredible amount of innovation and excitement in the radio industry at present. That excitement spills over into other disciplines who are using the radio as a metaphor in creative ways. On an aborted work blog for our team Anab wrote a post looking at some of the results of the Radio Project given to interaction design students at the RCA. Similarly, one of the treats on Richard and my recent trip up to the School of Design at Dundee was the fun “single station radios” that last year’s students had designed, including a Radio 3 radio shaped like the scroll of a violin.

Meany of these designs use the radio as a thought piece. A great quote along those lines was that tuning a radio dial is a useful analogy for browsing the web. (NB I cannot remember the exact quote, nor who made it [Bill Buxton, Clay Shirky, no, not either of them, who???])

BBC Research and other innovative BBC groups are another excellent place for novel radio uses. This isn’t ‘radio as metaphor’, this is innovating radio listening itself. Take Tristan Ferne and Tom Coates et al’s Annotatable Audio (later renamed Find Listen Label). The idea is that the playback of a radio programme is enhanced by the addition of a wiki, whereby listeners can annotate sections of the programme. One imagines users different interests (particular topics, particular voice actors, etc) leading to multi-facetted rich annotations. As with Wikipedia some users might be good at starting a topic, while others might be good at making sure the segment boundaries are accurately described. Sadly it’s an archived prototype, rather than something we can use, though I guess the BBC’s listen again feature is only available for seven days whereas Find Listen Label would clearly work best with more permanent collections. Since stumbling across this work on Tom’s blog I’ve been hoping that I’ll get some flash of inspiration about how to build on this work – perhaps as some mobile media tagging prototype.

Another side of making radio more explicitly social is to share what you are listening to with your friends – either the music itself (a la Three Degrees or iTrip) or share the fact that you are listening (a la Last FM or any ‘listening to’ tag line on a blog). This isn’t a clear-cut good idea. Back in 2003 I did a study of a prototype I’d built called Media Center Buddies. The idea was to explore what it was like to merge instant messaging with TV viewing. I built a ‘working’ prototype (well it worked enough for short bursts in our usability labs) and recruited 32 participants to come and try it out. We recruited 16 heavy IM users and got them to bring a close friend. I wanted participants doubled up with friends. It bothers me when technological studies of TV use ignore the fact that TV is often viewed socially, and this seems especially problematic for social software since if several people are interacting in the same room it’s not clear whose buddies the system should connect to. I won’t go into the results here (I presented them at NordiCHI  2004 and am working on a book chapter version) but as in any user study there were unexpected results. One was about sharing what you are watching with friends and family. My prototype didn’t include that feature, but I had mocked up a screen-shot showing a buddy-list resplendent with details of what buddies were watching. During the discussion phase I’d ask my participants what they felt about the idea: would they like to know what their buddies were watching and would they like their buddies to know what they were watching. Everyone wanted to know what their buddies were watching, but the other question divided on gender. All my women participants (about 15 people) felt it was a great idea while all my men participant (about 17 people) felt it was an awful idea. When I probed them as to why it was bad the answers that occurred more than once were “I don’t want my mom to know I’m watching porn” and “I don’t want my friends to know I’m watching Martha Stewart”. It’s tempting to think that this split results in differences between men and women’s viewing habits, and indeed that is probably most of the reason, but interestingly one of my women participants made a point of saying that she watched a lot of pornography. I wondered if another contributing difference was that men were more likely than women to watch things that they were ashamed of. You see a similar (though reversed) split in the sociological literature about alcoholism. It affects men and women but men’s drinking is often public, while women’s is (was?) often private. Interesting though this line of enquiry into the privacy of viewing habits was, it didn’t seem very useful for Microsoft so I haven’t followed it up. But one of my take-aways was that a service which offered the sharing of information about current viewing between buddies would work best if it was targeted at women.

“Three units looking left” from Schulze

But what about radio? Certainly the kind of issue I found with video shouldn’t affect radio. Sure, I might be embarrassed that I occasionally enjoy BBC Radio 2 but it’s not as strong – I’m not ashamed. Likewise for Last FM, it does bother me a bit that my listening becomes a visible part of my web identity (and it bothers me a lot that Last FM misses all my BBC iPlayer listening) but the pros outweigh the cons. Enter Olinda. I picked this up on the Make blog, though I should have spotted it on the BBC Radio Labs blog. The product design wonderful, and the modular nature of the hardware fascinating, but it’s the social computing that’s really intriguing. The Olinda is a DAB digital radio that connects to your home wi-fi network so that you can find out what your friends are listening to and they can find out about you. It’s done by Schulze and Webb for BBC Audio & Music Interactive. Wonderful. I do have some questions though. Radio is sometimes a solitary experience (e.g. the commute to work) but it is also playing in the heart of the family home – in the kitchen. Then whose taste is it reflecting? Is it my penchant for BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4, my kid’s preference for BBC Radio 1 or Q103, or my wife’s preference for silence? Whose buddies is it sharing this knowledge with – mine, my daughter’s, the union, the intersection, etc? That’s the kind of issue we’ve been grappling with through our Epigraph project (and its successors) and it would be great to glean the Olinda team’s views on this. That said there are some wonderful sharing ideas in the explanatory pamphlet, e.g. klippit (c.f. Grab-and-Share) and volume voting.

Using Tom Coates’ slide-deck as a crib-sheet


by Juan Felipe Castaño

I’ve been working in social computing / social software for a long time: I switched from working on understanding large billing systems to building shared virtual worlds in 1997. Recently I’ve been finding Tom Coates talk from SF06 a useful crib-sheet on social media. You can download the slide-deck, and you’ll see that Tom’s used an addictive slide style. But it is hard to use the PDF as a crib-sheet, so I copied the text from Tom’s slides into a text file and I refer to that in discussions and meetings etc. Putting the resulting crib-sheet  online may prove useful to me for those at-someone-else’s-computer moments, so here it is, lifted entirely from Tom’s slides

Using software to enhance our social and collaborative abilities through structured mediation

Individual Motives

Aggregate Value

An individual should get value from their contribution

Social Value

These contributions should provide value to their peers as well

Business / Organisational Value

The organisation that hosts the service should derive aggregate value and be able to expose this back to the users
Aggregation Style


Many contributions make one voice

Generates canonical or definitive representations in data


Many voices with emergent order

Generate lots of material, makes it comprehensible
Community motives

Peter Kollock “The Economies of Online Cooperation”

Anticipated reciprocity


‘Sense of Efficacy’ (a sense that one has some effect on one’s environment)

Identification with a group

Open up social value

Expose every axis of data you can

Give people a place to represent themselves

Allow them to associate, connect, and form relationships with one another

Help them annotate, rate, and comment

Look for ways to expose this data back onto the site

APIs are cool

Be …

Be very careful of user expectations around how private or public their contribution is

Be wary of creating monocultures or echo chambers (e.g. popular)

Stop dissing Wikipedia


Graph from Matthijs den Besten‘s talk “Wikipedia: the organizational capabilities of a peer production effort”

Yesterday a digital media pundit told me that in a few years time “all the articles on Wikipedia will be locked down”. I was bemused, especially since I was using Wikipedia as an example of what can be achieved by mass consensus, in contrast to authoritative or editorial voices. I seem to be encountering more and more Wikipedia naysayers. I can understand why this might come from people invested in older styles of knowledge gleaning, but why would media pundits think this? It might just be iconoclastic tendencies, or a desire to stand out by criticising something we all love.

Personally I haven’t made many edits to Wikipedia. I have made some, from correcting grammar on the Eminem page through to adding a mnemonic to the page on the OSI seven layer network model, but even fewer have survived. In any case I use Wikipedia daily and love it. I’m not saying Wikipedia is perfect. There are articles where including all sides of a debate feels odd. For example, I gave a talk about social computing at an IWF board meeting in May 2005 where I compared the entries about pedophilia in Encarta  (which may require a subscription) and Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article included a list of organisations advocating pedophilia, the Encarta article did not. But even that criticism is lessened if one reads the current version of the Wikipedia article, where references to pedophilia advocates have been moved to a separate article.

The graph at the head of this post is the other Wikipedia analysis that bothered me, though it is clearly not as crass as the “all the articles on Wikipedia will be locked down” quote. In his talk titled “‘Wikipedia: the organizational capabilities of a peer production effort” at the recent OxIS / Ofcom Social Networking Conference Matthijs den Besten used that graph to show how Wikipedia is getting more bureaucratic, more businesslike. But does it show that? It certainly seems to; but let’s factor the the size of Wikipedia into den Besten’s graph. We know the numbers of administrators over time and the number of articles over time so we can look at the number of administrators per article. This seems to go from 0.000526 (i.e. 40/76,000) at the end of the third quarter of 2002, down to 0.000191 (i.e. 1013/5,300,000) at the end of the third quarter 2006. So the out-of-control increase in the number of administrators presented by den Besten is in fact a decrease of over 50% in the number of administrators per article.

I guess the strapline for this post is ‘don’t believe the naysayers’.