We all speak intra

December 15, 2008

We just put a video live on a client’s intra.tv, with ten languages of subtitles. A record for us.

German, English, Spanish, Estonian, French, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portugese and Russian.

Makes me happy, anyway.


Your problem is our business

December 11, 2008

Seen yesterday above a urinal in a client office. I’m all in favour of departments promoting themselves, but I’m not sure this strikes quite the right tone.

Words fail me, again

Words fail me, again

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 consultants consult

November 24, 2008

I’ve been a fan of Jaunty Angle for a wee while, and a big hat tip to Karl Roche for this:

So I was there to share, for what it’s worth, what I know and do in internal comms with the Danish comms team. Actually they know quite a bit.  They really just needed someone with a lack of diplomacy and nothing to lose locally, to kick things off and turn that academic knowledge into actions.

Yee ha.

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 intra.tv 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.


Today’s most uselessest fact: a West End beer Tsunami

November 17, 2008

One hundred and ninety four years and one month ago exactly,  in a brewery a couple of hundred yards away from here, a vat of beer containing over 135,000 gallons of beer ruptured, causing other vats to follow suit. Something over  323,000 gallons of beer burst out and gushed into the streets. Ten people were killed: eight drowned, one died of alcohol poisoning and one from dysentery.

The brewery was on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, where the New Dominion Theatre is now.

There ya go.

Blogging for invertebrates

November 14, 2008

A splendid dialogue on Reddit today, spinning off from an ordinary story into something simply wondrous.


One Cuil = One level of abstraction away from the reality of a situation.

Example: You ask me for a Hamburger.

1 Cuil: if you asked me for a hamburger, and I gave you a raccoon.

2 Cuils: If you asked me for a hamburger, but it turns out I don’t really exist. Where I was originally standing, a picture of a hamburger rests on the ground.

3 Cuils: You awake as a hamburger. You start screaming only to have special sauce fly from your lips. The world is in sepia.

4 Cuils: Why are we speaking German? A mime cries softly as he cradles a young cow. Your grandfather stares at you as the cow falls apart into patties. You look down only to see me with pickles for eyes, I am singing the song that gives birth to the universe.

And so on.

edit: other Cuil levels added for completeness.

5 Cuils: You ask for a hamburger, I give you a hamburger. You raise it to your lips and take a bite. Your eye twitches involuntarily. Across the street a father of three falls down the stairs. You swallow and look down at the hamburger in your hands. I give you a hamburger. You swallow and look down at the hamburger in your hands. You cannot swallow. There are children at the top of the stairs. A pickle shifts uneasily under the bun. I give you a hamburger. You look at my face, and I am pleading with you. The children are crying now. You raise the hamburger to your lips, tears stream down your face as you take a bite. I give you a hamburger. You are on your knees. You plead with me to go across the street. I hear only children’s laughter. I give you a hamburger. You are screaming as you fall down the stairs. I am your child. You cannot see anything. You take a bite of the hamburger. The concrete rushes up to meet you. You awake with a start in your own bed. Your eye twitches involuntarily. I give you a hamburger. As you kill me, I do not make a sound. I give you a hamburger.

6 Cuils: You ask me for a hamburger. My attempt to reciprocate is cut brutally short as my body experiences a sudden lack of electrons. Across a variety of hidden dimensions you are dismayed. John Lennon hands me an apple, but it slips through my fingers. I am reborn as an ocelot. You disapprove. A crack echoes through the universe in defiance of conventional physics as cosmological background noise shifts from randomness to a perfect A Flat. Children everywhere stop what they are doing and hum along in perfect pitch with the background radiation. Birds fall from the sky as the sun engulfs the earth. You hesitate momentarily before allowing yourself to assume the locus of all knowledge. Entropy crumbles as you peruse the information contained within the universe. A small library in Phoenix ceases to exist. You stumble under the weight of everythingness, Your mouth opens up to cry out, and collapses around your body before blinking you out of the spatial plane. You exist only within the fourth dimension. The fountainhead of all knowledge rolls along the ground and collides with a small dog. My head tastes sideways as spacetime is reestablished, you blink back into the corporeal world disoriented, only for me to hand you a hamburger as my body collapses under the strain of reconstitution. The universe has reasserted itself. A particular small dog is fed steak for the rest of its natural life. You die in a freak accident moments later, and you soul works at the returns desk for the Phoenix library. You disapprove. Your disapproval sends ripples through the inter-dimensional void between life and death. A small child begins to cry as he walks toward the stairway where his father stands.

edit2: We need a standard notation for Cuil to make calculations easier. I suggest the interrobang ‽, but I’m open to any other suggestions.

Have a good weekend y’all