1. Another Twitter visualisation

    Posted February 3, 2009 in social media, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    I promise I’ll stop posting links to these one day. Anyway, this is from a series of Superbowl-related interactive visualisations produced by the New York Times:

    Screenshot of NYT Twitter visualisation

    Unlike the visualisation of #inauguration posts I linked to recently, this isn’t based on hash tags but instead uses moving tag clouds to illustrate the volume of Twitter posts on various subjects during the Super Bowl.

    Examples include “Cardinals vs Steelers” (I know the Steelers are from Pittsburgh but from this animation I’d guess the Cardinals are from… Las Vegas? San Diego?), “talking about ads” (it’s vaguely depressing to see how much conversation the ads inspire) and player names (a guy called Fitzgerald obviously does something notable in the fourth quarter).

    This is maybe the most effective use of Twitter data I’ve seen so far, as it is centred around a single event but tracks various subjects of conversation related to that event. A far simpler and less interesting animation would have simply flagged every post with the hash tag #superbowl.

  2. Presidential inauguration – Twitter visualisation

    Posted January 23, 2009 in social media, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    This animated map from FlowingData shows the global location of each Twitter post tagged as #inauguration between Monday and Wednesday this week.

    Twitter visualisation from FlowingData

    Although the world map isn’t shown, over time the US and the UK become almost perfectly defined by the density of Twitter post markers. You can also see outlines of south America and western Europe.


    The big flurry happens when the US wakes up on Tuesday morning…

  3. The end of Web 2.0?

    Posted October 13, 2008 in social media, strategy  |  No Comments so far

    Even though I’ve been known to use the phrase “Web 2.0” from time to time, I’ve never really liked the idea very much especially for using them as a high ranking seo service. It’s useful shorthand for when you’re talking to anyone whose knowledge about the internet is defined largely by current trends and ‘hypes’, but really, what’s ever been new about the idea of the web being a platform for user-generated content and social networking? Me and a lot of people I know have been using it for that purpose for nearly fifteen years already.

    That said, there’s a case to be made for the validity of the phrase. There’s a combination of interactivity, interoperability and a certain visual aesthetic that can arguably be described quite aptly as “Web 2.0”. But in the last year or so the Web 2.0 brand has been becoming more and more “bubble-esque” as ‘coolness’ has started to outstrip utility within that world.

    And as you will no doubt have noticed, we are no longer operating in an economy where coolness carries more weight than utility. The contraction of liquidity will lead to less and less investors being content to capitalise Silicon Valley firms with vapid business models. Products that don’t deliver clear operational value will find it much tougher to get funding.

    All in all, it’s like 2000-2001 again, but writ large. The FT’s Lex column (login needed) reported this morning that if the equities markets recover twice as quickly as they did after the 1929 crash, hardly anyone currently over 65 will live to see them reach their heights of summer 2007. The economic climate of the coming years isn’t going to support the kind of culture that “Web 2.0” has become.

    But is that really a bad thing? No, I don’t think so. The hardships that this industry experienced between 2000 and 2002 gave it a sorely-need maturity. And the next few years may do the same.

    Even if its underlying concepts were never that new, “Web 2.0” has introduced the mainstream to a way of connecting over the net that was previously the domain mainly of people like me – geeks, to be blunt. There is now an opportunity for it to go through the same process of maturation that “Web 1.0” did all those years ago, and this will bring changes into how we create and optimize our websites, so using tools as WordTree reverse ASIN could be helpful for this.

    Edit, January 2010: Interestingly the technology sector seems to have held up quite well despite the sustained global recession, which only now seems to be drawing to an end. Twitter might even have moved into profitability in 2009. There are still too many people marketing themselves as “social media gurus” but in general the big companies associated with “Web 2.0” have made well-informed and sensible decisions rather than turn into bloated dot-bomb throwbacks.

  4. Brands that suck on Twitter

    Posted August 13, 2008 in social media, strategy, web  |  No Comments so far

    Here in the UK, Twitter has yet to seriously catch on although many organisations are attempting to make use of it. But the marketing and communications departments of large US companies are becoming increasingly aware of the need to establish a brand presence in Twitter.

    The case of Janet, who masqueraded as an ExxonMobil spokesperson on Twitter before being unmasked as a fraud, demonsrates how even doing nothing can be damaging. Your brand can get hijacked and dragged through the mud while you’re busy formulating your micro-blogging communications strategy.

    Here’s a list of brands that suck on, or simply don’t get, Twitter. It’s an evolving list – Starbucks, for example, got removed after responding to the blog post, showing that their Twitter account wasn’t merely “parked”.

    Better commentary than my own can be found at Jeremiah Owyang’s web strategy blog.

  5. My picks from “On the Bus”

    Posted August 11, 2008 in social media  |  2 Comments so far

    I posted recently about Tweets on the bus, a little site that aggregates all Twitter posts containing the phrase “on the bus”.

    Since that post, I’ve been following the “on the bus” posts using Google Reader. Every now and again there’s one that makes me laugh. Here’s a digest of my favourite “on the bus” tweets from the last few weeks:

  6. Tweeting on the bus

    Posted July 26, 2008 in social media  |  1 Comment so far

    Earlier this afternoon, as I was passing Angel station on a bus, I posted to Twitter. I’ve subsequently discovered my ‘tweet’ turning up at this site – Tweets on the bus.

    The concept is simple – it collects Twitter posts containing the term “on the bus”, and presents them all on one web page. It’s got an RSS feed, and provides automatic links to possibly related tweets.

    OK, so it’s not going to change the world. But if you’re as keen an observer of the banal as I am, it’s as good an answer as any to the important question of what’s currently on the minds of random strangers on the bus.

  7. Wealth of Networks – a semi-account

    Posted July 25, 2008 in conferences, social media  |  1 Comment so far

    Yesterday I went along to the Wealth of Networks conference at Imperial College. I was only able to attend the morning sessions, but it was a valuable chance to hear the thoughts of various individuals with diverse backgrounds but a shared understanding of the power of networks (in the broader sense of the word).

    The Twitter Experiment

    One of the things that I was planning on doing at the conference was to have a go at using Twitter as a means of realtime communication with other attendees, so I used my phone’s browser to run a Twitter Search for the event’s hash tag. I saw a tweet from someone else who was wondering if he’d “still be awake by 10am” and felt a bit excited at the idea of sharing a ‘back-channel’ of conversation during the sessions.

    As it turned out, however, there was some confusion around the hash tags. Most people turned out to have been using #wealthofnetworks rather than the #won tag listed in an email I’d received the day before. Also, I didn’t charge my phone adequately and it died within a couple of hours. Still, I think I’ve got a good understanding of how Twitter can make these sorts of events much more useful from a networking point of view, and I’m looking forward to my next chance to try it out in real time.

    John Varney’s Keynote Address

    John Varney was formerly Chief Technology Officer at the BBC and now runs Maximum Clarity, a consultancy. The earlier part of his talk set out to contextualise recent developments in social media & networks by looking at five key figures who have played a part in their development:

    • David Sarnoff – Founder of NBC, saw television’s potential as a community medium
    • Gordon Moore – Co-founder of Intel, laid foundations for the evolution of the devices we use today
    • Bob Metcalfe – Inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com
    • David Reed – Forecast the exponential scalability and utility of social and computer networks (Reed’s Law
    • Ross Mayfield – cited as the ‘father of the social network’ in the modern sense of the term

    Having given an overview of where we are, he then outlined where he felt we were going. Referencing Yoklai Benker‘s book, “The Wealth of Networks” (from which the conference took its name), Varney argued that the wealth-creating potential of networks was now being realised to a significant extent. Benkler had identified three manifestations of the wealth of networks:

    • Social Wealth – for example, Facebook (I’m a bit of a Facebook cynic myself but was hardly going to argue with its prevalence)
    • Monetary Wealth – for example, eBay
    • Creative Wealth – for example, Metacafé (Varney said that he’d considered listing Youtube as the example, but doesn’t really like it)

    Also, we’re currently moving towards a state of ‘information symmetry’, in which powerful, monolithic arbiters of information (he heavily implied that the BBC could be thought of as one of these) are seeing their influence subside as individuals start becoming sources in their own right.
    The examples Varney cited to illustrate this principle were September 11th 2001 attacks in the US, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and the 7th July 2005 tube bombings in London.

    • September 11th – this event was covered by the broadcast networks, who were on the scene immediately and were the main source of information (although you could go into more detail here about how forums and mailing lists on the internet became a crucial news source as the BBC, Sky and CNN websites crashed under the strain…)
    • The Asian Tsunami – the broadcast networks weren’t there and didn’t arrive until two days later. The event was covered by people who were at the scene, but these people handed their footage to the networks and relied on them to disseminate it
    • 7th July – in this case, the people who took pictures and filmed video at the scene also published their material themselves via sites like Flickr and Youtube, demonstrating the obsolescence of the broadcast media.

    So given the above observations about wealth-generation and information symmetry, Varney concluded his talk with a number of assertions, among which were:

    • The death of the organisation and rise of the ‘collaboration’ – in a few years we won’t be talking about organisations but instead about more fluid and diffuse ‘collaborations’ (he intentionally used the word as a noun). This will require a “new breed” of management and leadership (I wanted to ask more about this but there wasn’t time)
    • Open source innovation – not limited to software development. Through being open to ideas from people outside one’s organisation or discipline, utilising the power of one’s networks, genuine innovation becomes easier
    • Computing-free enterprise – “if your company still has an IT department by 2015, you’re in trouble.” Cloud computing will cause companies to abandon their own technology infrastructure and move to remotely-served

    Panel Discussion Moderated by Gareth Mitchell

    After a 20-minute break a large panel assembled for the second session, a panel discussion moderated by Gareth Mitchell (lecturer at Imperial as well as presenter of the BBC’s Digital Planet). It’s worth noting here that I heard about this event via a Twitter post from Gareth, which may or may not be of interest to the event’s organisers!

    File-sharing in the UK

    The first subject under discussion was the morning’s story on file-sharing. In short, ISPs are going to send nasty letters to people who use P2P file-sharing applications. A straw poll of the panel & audience revealed that the vast majority of those present used these tools, and the whole initiative was treated with some levity.

    The discussion focused on record labels and their flawed business models, the consensus being that these, rather than rampant criminality, were the real root of the problem. I furrowed my brow at the idea that Led Zeppelin or Bob Dylan could be thought of as being in the “long tail”, and wrote in my notebook, “do these people know how long that tail really is???”. To be fair though I’m an embittered ex-owner of a tiny independent record label so have a bit of a skewed perspective on what music can be seen as obscure…

    One attendee with a Canadian accent mentioned Live Nation’s deal with Madonna and their focus on music at the point of consumption – specifically, concerts – rather than on ownership. Would this model trickle along the “tail” to the point that lesser-known artists would make money this way?

    The panel broadly thought so, but I didn’t – I feel that physical events will remain the domain of either very large or intensely localised acts, and the most interesting thing the internet has done for music has been to decouple fan-bases from geography. You need a critical mass of fans in a certain area to be able to make money through performance, and if your music appeals to people with more specialised tastes, this will always be elusive.

    Internet Blackout

    The second topic was one of “internet blackout” and how the UK would cope with it. One question was, is there a commercial motive for ISPs and telcos to continually upgrade their infrastructure to accomodate the constantly-rising demand? In short – there is, and previous predictions of internet meltdown have come to nothing. John Varney noted that newspapers in particular tend to pick up on these stories as they’re innately attracted to the idea of the internet going away. It’s going to happen though.

    I wanted to ask about a more realistic “internet blackout” scenario than global meltdown, namely the suspected Russian attack on Estonia’s internet infrastructure in 2007. Events like that are likely to become more common in the future, and if botnets continue to grow in size it won’t just be states that are behind them – however, a lot of people raised their arms before I got a chance to pipe up.

    Net Neutrality

    The final topic was net neutrality and the question of whether or not multiple tiers of internet access were emerging. This issue is a very complex one and the panel didn’t have too much time to discuss it in real detail – one interesting question that came up, however, was Nick Leon’s assertion that ISPs should look for ways to provide additonal services to their customers and avoid being ‘dumb pipe carriers’, destined to suffer as US telcos had done in the 1990s.

    John Varney seemed to disagree with this view, though, and so do I – surely that’s AOL’s model? There may be a market for that sort of ISP but I feel that consumers have largley become able to navigate the open internet without difficulty, and are therefore unlikely to be attracted back to the “walled garden” regardless of how much proprietary content is offered to them. You never know though.

    In Summary

    I’d like to have been able to stay for the afternoon and join in one of the breakout panels, but as one of the few wage-slaves in attendance (in a show-of-hands most attendees identified themselves as scientists or entrepeneurs) I had to head back to the office. It was annoying that I’d forgotten to charge my phone too, as it would have been good to carry on the Twitter experiment a bit further and see if I could seek out the flesh-forms of people who’d been tweeting.

  8. Twitter in plain English

    Posted July 17, 2008 in social media  |  No Comments so far

    After my previous post on not “getting” Twitter, I’ve spent a fair bit of time getting to grips with it and have been sucked in to a considerable extent.

    I’ll post more about my road-to-Damascus Twitter conversion in the next couple of days, but in the meantime I’d refer any interested readers to this video, “Twitter in Plain English”:

    What I’d say about it though is that it focuses unduly on the “social” aspects of Twitter, e.g. using it to stay in touch with your real life friends and family. I don’t think that tells the whole picture, however… and I’ll explain why later!

  9. Microupdates and me (and you)

    Posted July 15, 2008 in social media  |  No Comments so far

    Further to my previous post about not ‘getting’ Twitter, here’s an article from the OpenObjects blog with a few examples of how this sort of thing (micro-blogging? micro-updates?) can be useful:


    I especially like the Firefox anecdote. I’m starting to get the idea that it’s the ancillary geek-built tools that constitute the real value of these services and that I’m missing the point by seeing the Twitter site as where all the action is.I also like this page farandaway.co , I go to it every time I want to change my tableware.

  10. Why don’t I get Twitter?

    Posted in social media  |  3 Comments so far

    These days a lot of people like me are addicted to Twitter. Developers across the globe are coming up with interesting tools to visualise, aggregate and automatically syndicate Twitter content (or “tweets”). At conferences and speeches, audiences keep up a constant back-channel of chat using Twitter. I sporadically post to Twitter. But I don’t feel like I’m really getting Twitter.

    It’s not that I don’t see the appeal – if I could force my friends and colleagues to start using it I can imagine it becoming an addiction pretty quickly. But outside technology circles I’m usually met with blank faces whenever I mention Twitter. The end result is that whenever I tweet I feel like I’m addressing an empty room or shouting into a vacuum.

    So Twitter might be more useful to me if my real-life social networks were even partially extant within the Twitter universe. A sensible conclusion to draw from this might be that I should simply join new Twitter-based social networks and make some new friends among those who already use the service?

    That brings us to another problem with Twitter. These days we’re accustomed to social networking sites not only allowing us to connect with our real-life acquaintances, but also to search for and befriend like-minded strangers with similar interests. This doesn’t seem very easy on Twitter, however, which leads me to believe that I’m probably missing something that’s very obvious to every other user.

    I’m nothing if not persistent though so I’m going to tweet on, in the hope that I’ll undergo some sort of Twitter epiphany someday. And if you come across any of my posts, please interact with me in some way – I’ll make it worth your while!