Time and timing

January 5, 2011

It has been a while.

The reason I didn’t post that much, besides enjoying a short holiday, is the same excuse many bloggers use: Twitter. Microblogging that is. I enjoy Twitter enormously, it’s big fun and very handy when it comes to pulling in information that’s actually interesting to me.  It’s combination of blogging, sharing, finding and curating works very well.

Of course there is a downside as well. I’m not fond of tweets of personal nature. I can’t imagine that someone out there wants to know what I watch, do or do not. And likewise, I’m not interested in messages of this nature from others.

But the upside is simple and elegant. I use it as a very personal filter. I follow people who know interesting stuff and have interesting thoughts and opinions. What they tweet must be interesting enough for me to consume and sometimes interesting for those people spending time following me.

Lately I have been working with a couple of friends on a concept we came up with 12 years ago. At that time GOOG did not exist. The idea was to save bookmarks and share these bookmarks with friends and likeminded people in order to create a subset of interesting webcontent. Everything stored in what we now call The Cloud and of course ranked. I recieve bookmarks from other people in my group, I rank them and the results of all these rankers is a human curated subset, the result of something we now call wisdom of crowds. We were putting together a bunch of people to test the algos, but then came word from GOOG and we stopped.

Let us jump in time and move to now.

The exact same problem as 15 – 12 years ago is becoming urgent again right now. I wrote many times about it. There is too much data out there. There is filter failure. Infobesitas, some people like to call it. How do we cope with all this data and turn it into information? RSS of course made following websites and blogs more easy, but RSS never became a tool for the masses.

Can we therefore claim that RSS really is dead?

Not at all!

Time will tell what tools and services will provide the best results.

Timing for Twitter looks pretty cool though.

I wish all of you a wonderful 2011.

For my part I will try to make more time to post more often, as 2011 will be far more interesting than 2010. The iPad has changed the stage, publishers have received plenty of wake up calls, paid content models will be tried more often, social media are on the rise, mobile has gained speed and the web is still very alive and kicking.


It can be done

October 21, 2010

This morning I received a tweet that pointed me to a debate organized by The Economist. This magazine is very succesful as a paper product, with great content and a huge circulation. At the same time it is a prime example of a media company that tries to understand the impact of the move to bits and actually really produces new forms of digital content. Content that matters.

The debate is on the question whether or not computing is the most important technology that originated from the last century. Two opposite views are expressed by top of the bill experts. Everyone can vote and comment. Very interesting views and opinions by readers are posted. The user engagement is quite long, I stayed at least for one hour and it had my full attention. I certainly will come back.

Of course I had to register and of course I will receive marketing materials from The Economist, but I don’t mind. I signed up for it.

The debate is sponsored by Intel. I did not object to this at all, on the contrary, I liked it. When was the last time you admired an advertiser for bringing you something on a screen?

So it can be done. Watch and judge for yourself.

Enter the debate at the medium right.


Science Fiction

October 20, 2010

In my last post I described the feeling of information overload. A feeling most people know very well. There is a tsunami of opinions, facts, news, media blah blah, data, info and it’s growing by the minute. In my blog I expressed my renewed hope for better info because the number of professionals in information architecture, information design and user experience (design) is on the rise and their profession is getting more professional.

I received a comment. A brilliant one. Did I not know of Clay Shirky’s speech at the web 2.0 summit in 2008, where he talked about information overload? In it Shirky described that our problem is not information overload, but filter failure. The web led to a big change in the business dynamics of publishing. Since the costs of producing content is practically zilch, there is no economic necessity for a filter function anymore. Before the web, publishers had to filter quality, since they had to pay upfront for producing the content and had to bear the risk of not selling poor quality.

No, I did not know Shirky shared his thoughts on this subject with us. So I checked it out, watched ten minutes on video, became impressed, searched for comments and analysis and learned a lot.

And in a funny sort of way, that’s exactly the point I tried to make. How did I not find this quality content?

And it made me think. If there is no quality, why try to search for it? What’s quality anyway? Who decides quality? Peers, friends? Experts? People, machines, algorithms?

When the web started people made homepages and linked to other homepages. We pointed each other to interesting stuff. Some people grouped interesting links in what later on became known as portals. Homepages became websites. Search was hell, as more and more websites were launched. The engines did crawl and count, but ‘quality’ was not judged.

A very interesting startup, later to be known as GOOG, came along and counted links to other websites and links coming in and thus Pagerank was born. Based upon the longtime academic practice of peering, quoting and referring, links became the way to be noticed in the growing amount of websites. A brilliant idea at the time, since quality of the website, material, opinions, design, webmaster was judged by other humans. Poor quality, no link. No link, no rank in Pagerank.

GOOG became a huge success and the de facto startingpoint for a journey into cyberspace. Eyeballs were attracted, money could be made through advertising and search results became manipulated. More and more content could be found quickly. It takes a few nanoseconds to get millions of results. People normally click on one or two, maybe three, links. They land on a website, look around for a very short time and dissappear.

Finding interesting and usefull stuff became again harder and harder. New solutions to the problem popped up. Web 2.0 came along and people started to produce and publish more and more on the web. New ways to find and share interesting stuff popped up as a new tsunami. Social bookmarking, adding, sharing, tweeting, digging, blogging, pointing, pushing.  Nowadays it takes me even too much time and effort to follow all the new approaches of sharing. That’s why I missed the point Shirky tried to make.

And he is right. It is all about the failure of the filters.

That brings us to the question what sort of filters we need. Should we return to the time and practice of the librarian and the curator? Should we integrate search with sharing, as GOOG introduced this week? Should we abandon machines and algorithms? Should we, as humans, do the filtering? Is there a way to use our collective judgement to judge quality? Let us minimize the junk and install some filters.

Around the time the web started to grow into a mass medium, I enjoyed the movie Johnny Mnemonic (1995), based upon a short story by William Gibson.  This cult classic is staged in 2021, when the whole world is connected by the gigantic Internet. Almost half of the population is suffering from a strange disease, called the Nerve Attentuation Syndrome, a.k.a ‘The Black Shakes’.

Let this scenario remain science fiction! 




Tweet or Blog?

October 8, 2010

It is a tweet, since it’s no more than 140 characters.

It’s a post, since it is a long and great story about the new use of new media (English/Belgian/Dutch)


Content on the Move

October 1, 2010

New screens, small, medium and large, keep popping up.  Flipping through content will become a new form of entertainment experience. New content formats and user experiences will  be invented, since a simple 1:1 translation of existing content to new types of media, will not attract enough users. In the beginning of TV we could watch radio and plays. The first automobiles resembled horse carriages. It always works like that.

Experiments continue. Maximizing value is the name of the game.


Another Paradox

September 29, 2010

One of the paradoxes in our digital age is the more data, the less knowledge. The more we know, the less we know.

In 2004 I was involved in launching a radical new form of datamining, using new mathematical concepts to fight combinatorial complexities. I remember I talked about it at a tradeshow and had to use quotes from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Choruses  from The Rock’ (1934) to get my message across.

Picture me standing before mathematicians, quoting: ‘ Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?’

Today there is even more data out there in the real world and here on the web. The Data Deluge is all around us.

We need new forms of information design. We need new ways of visualizing the data. Because a picture still tells more than a 1000 words. Here is a stunning documentary about visualization.

It only takes (only) one hour to watch. Time to spend versus lessons to be learned: another paradox.


Multiple media

September 28, 2010

Funny things happen in the land of the info-obese. Every morning I carefully select tweets to read. Some I retweet or post myself. These tweets appear in the sidebar of this blog too. I just read one of my tweets from this morning and thought it would be a great post in this blog as well.

Take a closer look if you please. Interesting piece of content and very nice infographic.

How’s that for multiple media?