Archive for the ‘Geek’ Category

My new favourite joke

December 23, 2008

Well it’s the end of term. What a cool year. Can’t wait for the next one.

And to end a year of blogging, a new favourite joke.  Son #1 had to bring some jokes into school for homework the other night, so got to google some good ones. And here it is. 

An egg and a chicken are lying in bed, smoking. The chicken says to the egg, “Well, at least we’ve sorted one thing out”.

Happy Christmas to y’all.


Wisdom of the herd

December 4, 2008

An interesting trip last night to a screening of Us Now, a new documentary about how the wisdom of crowds is being applied in the real world. Lots of familiar stories – Zoba, Couchsurfing, Ebbsfleet United – and some new ones on me – a community deciding how to allocate grant money.

“Us Now tells the stories of online networks that are challenging the existing notion of hierarchy.  For the first time, it brings together the fore-most thinkers in the field of participative governance to describe the future of government.”

It’s enjoyable stuff. Clay Shirky and Don Tapscott doing their shtick, and a wide-eyed tourist arriving in scary ol’ London and meeting his couchsurfing host. Will he or won’t he be a predatory axe-murdering maniac?

But it felt a bit relentlessly upside. I had my hand up to ask a question but didn’t get picked, so here goes.

Remember Mr. Splashypants?  

Mr. Splashypants is a humpback whale. Greenpeace was launching  its “Great Whale Trail Expedition” and decided to ask the internet to name a whale. And inevitably, I suppose, the contest got gamed. Somebody suggested “Mr. Splashypants” as a name, and then somebody else broke the voting machinery and then Boing Boing, Digg, Reddit etc got hold of the story and all of us joined in the joke and “Mr. Splashypants” won the vote by a country mile.

So my worry about online networks challenging the existing notion of hierarchies is that online networks don’t promote responsibility. It’s all so damn disinhibiting. People are ruder, sillier, more destructive online than in person. Which doesn’t really fit with a new model of government.

It’s a pity. I’d really like this to be a brave new world and human nature not to be such a bitch all of a sudden, but I think it probably still is. 

Good film, though.

Tags vs index cards

December 3, 2008

A lovely post from the God-like Dave Weinberger the other day, taking someone to task for missing the point of folksonomy. 

Folksonomy is where users tag content as they want, as opposed to content owners applying taxonomy, i.e. tagging it “properly”. It’s one of the ways that social content gets more useful as time goes on.

A commenter, Thay Singh, made a brilliantly concise point:

Your redaction of the text introduces a particularly interesting tension between folksonomies and taxonomies which I’ve not particularly noticed before – even though I worked at a major online content provider on this very topic. In building a taxonomy of documents, the librarian tries to capture the *author’s* intent; but in a folksonomy of the same documents you capture the the *reader’s* understanding. This is a subtle and important difference.

It certainly is.

That’s the beauty of tagging. The user is always right. What the author meant? Interesting, but that’s all.

Chicken head tracking

November 28, 2008

Ain’t YouTube marvellous?

Without it, we’d never have seen this.

I can honestly say that I’ve never thought about how much we’ve got to learn from how chickens comport themselves. Until now.

Happy weekend!

How users use

November 19, 2008

Sorry folks, this one is going to be a bit dense.

One of the arguments we always have with clients’ IT people about prior to the event is about concurrent views of videos. “What if everyone views at once? The network will fall down!”, they say. And we calmly go about soothing their nerves and pointing out that a) people don’t all watch at once and b) even if they all watch on day one, videos are short and viewers distribute themselves across the time span and don’t watch concurrently.

I always feel on slightly thin ice at this point, so I was thrilled to read about an academic paper which shows that…


... obviously.

... obviously.

These boffins studied viewing patterns on YouTube and identified two types of videos: “endogenous” – chosen by the community (or more commonly, “virals”) – and “exogenous” which are selected by YouTube editors and featured on the homepage.




Endogenous is on the left, and as you’d expect the viewing numbers grow slowly as users recommend the videos to their friends and then tail off. Exogenous videos, on the right, burst onto the scene when recommended and then tail off quickly. [Tries to recall maths from dim past]. This is a “power law relaxation”, isn’t it?

The chart on the right is particularly interesting, because this is a pretty good analogue for an internally launched video. Employees get an email telling them to watch, and the keen ones do immediately, the keen busy ones do as soon as they can, and then the interest tails away as the long tail of people get round to watching.

The chart is a logarithmic scale, so using Photoshop and Excel to very, very roughly map the numbers onto a linear scale you get a curve something like this:




And because my brain is too small to handle power law relaxations, bodging on a rule of thumb that viewership declines by 75% per day we get a pretty good match:




Where this gets useful to us is that if we accept this viewing pattern, we can use the curve to plot a likely maximum viewership.

Let’s say that 10,000 eager employees are going to view the latest video from the CEO. Using a 75% decay rate, we can redraw the pink line so that the data points add up to 10,000. And you get this:



And we can see that the peak day has almost exactly a quarter of the total views: 2,508 to be exact.

That’s as far as this data can get us, but a client recently gave us the raw logs from their last couple of streamed videos and they showed peaks early in the morning and at lunch time,  like this:


On the other hand...

On the other hand...

19% of the peak day’s views fell in the peak hour, so applying that number to the peak day figure from our 10,000 audience – 2508 – you get 481 views.

And let’s say the video is ten minutes long, then divide the peak hour by six and you get a peak concurrency of… 80. That’s all.

Nothing to worry about…

Thanks to NewTeeVee for posting about this, btw.

Cult of Bob pt. 3

November 18, 2008

A little while ago, I posted that Bob the Builder on Wikipedia was described as being “inspired by the Kafka short story, ‘A Departure’” Telling my sister about this the other day, it was there no more, so today I had a look at the history of the page.

Let us marvel at the wonder that is Wikipedia.

The history lists all the changes that people have been made to the page, and when you make a change, you can add a comment. And here are a few:


12:20, 28 October 2008 Surturz   (add Lofty and Farmer Pickles to Morrisey’s credits)

Surturz clarifying some info on the voiceover. Fair enough.

12:34, 30 October 2008 Lost Number  (Other media: added appearance on The Daily Show)

19:54, 30 October 2008 Gladys j cortez (Reverted 1 edit by Lost Number; Rm unencyclopedic info.)

20:22, 30 October 2008 Ism schism (restore pop culture reference by Lost Number)

21:00, 30 October 2008 Gladys j cortez (Reverted 1 edit by Ism schism; Oddly enough, just because Jon Stewart deigns to mention something does NOT make it encyclopedic. Take it to the talk page.. )

Or in English, Lost Number added a reference to Bob The Builder being mentioned on The Daily Show (saying “Yes we can” I expect), then Gladys Cortez took it out, describing it as being “unencyclopedic”, Ism Schism put it back, and Gladys Cortez took it out again, with a rather sniffy comment.

At 01.42 on 19 October, someone replaced the whole page with “‘if u search this up, then u are no00b! w00t w00t” and the same minute Flewis put the page back.

And back on 29 September, the dearly beloved Gladys Cortez, protector of all things Bob, made a change and commented “I can’t believe that we’ve had “Bob the Builder” based on a Franz Kafka story since AUGUST. Jeez louise!!!!”

Thanks Gladys.

And the amazing thing is this. Do you know how many people actually work full-time for Wikipedia? In January 2007 it employed five people, according to New Scientist. I heard somewhere that it’s up to twenty now. Gladys Cortez, dedicated to the integrity of information about Bob the Builder, is a volunteer.


How not to…

November 10, 2008


My eyes hurt

My eyes hurt

Reading on the blogs that studios are about to start posting full length movies on YouTube, I clicked on a link to look at MGM’s YouTube channel. What greeted me was the view above.

Ooh, I thought, movies. Robocop, Rocky, Hannibal Lecter. Coool.


These are background images. You can’t click them. The little black pane at the top has the clickable links. All the rest are just there to disappoint you and make you annoyed with the page. 

Two theories:

1. This is a cunning plan to make the channel unusable, hence sabotaging the argument that content will be viewed online.

2. They have, literally, no idea as to what makes a web page usable.

You decide.

More facts

November 3, 2008

According to the Nielsen company

nearly 31 percent of in-home Internet activity takes place while the user is watching television, demonstrating that there is a significant amount of simultaneous Internet and television usage. Conversely, about 4 percent of television viewing occurs when the consumer is also using the Internet. 

I’d love to see if the activity on the two screens was in some way linked…

Steal our revolution back!

October 31, 2008
Chicago poster

Chicago poster

I took this picture on the train this morning. As you can see, it’s a poster for “London’s sexiest show” Chicago (with show-stopping smooth legs sponsored by Phillips epilators). What you can’t see is what it says in the bottom right. There are three headings at the bottom: “Watch” (fair enough), “Buy” (I guess they’re not in this for love) and “Network”.

And under Network it says

Join the growing network of worldwide fans on the show’s dedicated facebook and myspace pages.

Jesus Christ.

Now fanboyness isn’t really in my make-up, so I just don’t get this. I took a look at both, on your behalf dear reader.

Facebook first. Put “Chicago” into search and good lord there are 1,256 fans (some of them men, oddly enough. Shall we speculate on their sexuality?), five discussion topics (“Favorite CHICAGO song?”, “Who would YOU like to see starring in Chicago?”), 23 wall posts, photos, videos, the whole shebang.

Meanwhile on Myspace (the space for the Chicago show, it seems) there are 828 friends , 95 comments and the usual unbearable user interface for anyone over the age of 17.

What do we feel about this, people? A legitimate use of social media, or a horrifying cynical exercise to wring more out of fans?

I’m no purist here, but this wasn’t the internet revolution that I signed up for…


October 3, 2008

Blog words by wordle

Words on my blog by wordle

Not that I check my blog stats obsessively or anything (that would make me both sad and sad, if you see what I mean) but I’m interested in how you get traffic to a blog.

Last December I innocently posted that my boss had announced that he’d had a dream about Penelope Cruz. Looking into the wonderful stats that WordPress provide, Ms Cruz is far and away the highest search term used to find my blog.

So… I’m wondering what the best random items to introduce would be, to suck eyeballs this way?

Lindsay Lohan and her new lesbian squeeze? (I’m not entirely sure who Lindsay Lohan is, but yet by some kind of weird cultural osmosis, I know that she as a new lesbian squeeze, and that this is somehow Significant).

Or is the ongoing collapse of capitalism a bigger draw? My fave on this, BTW, is

Or are these kind of things so over-served on the Wonderful World Wide Web that there are two many links to choose from? Perhaps a niche reference would do better.

Maybe referring to how Clone Wars sucks might work. Not that I really know what Clone Wars are (I’m proud to have not seen any Star Wars films since the original in 1977 when I was eleven and went to see it with my dad in Manchester Deansgate. I’m not sure he’s been to the cinema since).

Or introducing some dog-whistle phrases? “Star Trek vs Star Wars”? “McCain and his battle against dementia”? “Sarah Palin nude” (forgive me). 

Let’s see.