Archive for the ‘web 2.0’ Category
A while ago I stated my intention to stop blogging, as soon as I started university. That eventuality is now one week away, and I still intend to go through with it. I’m viewing this move as one step in a larger set of life changes, nearly all of which have been under my control.
It’s well over 5 years since I started blogging, and I’ve seen it develop from a niche activity to a web standard. A process of commercialization is already under way, even if it is not obvious from a superficial standpoint. This is understandable in purely economic terms: anything with mass popularity will be ripe for commercial exploitation.
This blog is hosted by wordpress.com, which was set up as a host for the WordPress “content management” software developed by the same multinational team. It does not charge users for a basic account. They do charge for extras, such as extra storage space or (in my case) the use of my own top-level domain, but these are genuine extras, and I don’t know if they are big cash cows for the developers. I get the impression they are still doing this because they can, not purely for commercial gain, even though the costs of running wordpress.com must be somewhere between “stupendous” and “horrendous”.
Will we see “professional bloggers”? In some senses, we already have them. Blogs, and comments on them, are major weapons in the arsenal of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) executives. We also have technology journalists and podcasters such as Robert Scoble and Adam Curry using these media to further their careers, even if stardom is not quite what they want. Me? I just enjoy writing, and found this blog a useful platform for stories about myself, my activities, and anything else that interested me.
Where I am going – for the next three years, at least – I will have plenty to write about, with little or none of it about me. In the remaining week, I may post a little more about the changes ahead of me, or I may not: they are not that exciting or unusual, and not all are guaranteed to take place. For now, I’ll resist the temptation to quote from Turn, Turn, Turn (by The Byrds), and enjoy the Debussy on the BBC Proms broadcast. This must be what old men get up to on Saturday nights.
We’re almost at the end of the day after Independence Day, and I’m finally getting the opportunity to sit down and write a little about my own Independence Day, 2007. I’m not American, but I had one, nevertheless.
July 4, 2007, was the day I started quitting my job, at a major IT company. I say “started” because I haven’t actually resigned yet: it’s too soon for that. I need to give four weeks’ notice; I gave eight weeks of actual working time, or ten weeks if you factor in holidays that I won’t be taking. What I did was inform my manager that I was leaving, with the rest of the team here being told soon afterwards.
Where am I going? Not another job, at least not yet: in early September I will start full-time study at University College Dublin (UCD). The course is Structural Engineering with Architecture, straddling two disciplines. A lot of mathematics, a lot of looking at the “designed environment”, some graphic design, even some materials and construction.
I thought it was a good all-rounder course: while I enjoy architecture and design, I have no illusions of becoming an Architect with a capital A; it would take a certain level of Arrogance that I don’t have or want (I hope). More details to follow as I get them.
That is not the only change around here: not long after the meeting where I made the announcement, a former colleague of ours came calling. He still works for the same company, but in a different area, and he needed a place to stay for a few days, possibly longer. He’s not Irish, but married an Irish lady, whom (he says) is no longer a Lady. As a result, my place is now his “halfway house” on his way to the divorce courts and out of the country. Good thing I have that spare bedroom.
The last change will take the next eight weeks to engineer: the end of this blog. The reasons are complex, and will be the subject of further entries, but the most straightforward is that this blog is out of step with the way things are done today. Blogging is no longer an end in itself, but a means to an end: an end that I have little interest in achieving.
I’ve just deleted my account at Twitter, and intend to cut my participation on forums down, even further than I already have. I left The National Midday Sun (TNMS) last year, and the MythBusters fan forum a few months go – two forums that sucked up epic spans of time, but provided little real reward, only an illusory aura of “participation”.
Reboot 9.0 is kicking off, in Copenhagen, tonight: a year ago I was at Reboot 8.0, wondering if I could get a handle on all this Web 2.0 stuff. I came away with an overriding impression, backed up by explicit statements from other bloggers, that Web 2.0 is all about creating more intrusive links between a person and the Internet. This is a double-edged sword, in my opinion.
The first edge is the drive for “personalization”; they will help you get what you want, in the way that you want, so you can make better use of your time and attention. The same information, about your interests and plans, can be used to customise advertising directed at you – something that, it is hoped, advertisers will happily pay more for. It’s an illustration of a universal truth behind any new non-scientific endeavour: follow the money.
The second edge is the drive to put oneself out there, to create the “brand of me”. If you search the Internet for “brand of me”, you can find many examples of how to do this well, but you’ll also note that the practitioners of this are those with something to sell. The most vocal proponent of this approach, that I know of, is Sally Hogshead, blogger and author of Radical Careering, a book which appears to be about careers in general, but seems to me to be focused on “public-facing sales” careers, such as marketing and advertising.
To hear these “brand of me” proponents speak, you would think that everyone needs to be a marketeer, because everyone has something to sell: yourself. This reminds me of something I heard an employer say: “everyone is a salesperson”. (That one got a good laugh at the time.)
I understand there are occasions when such measures are necessary – when looking for a job, for example – but once you are done with that, why keep selling yourself? The stock answer that I’ve heard goes something like “you never stop looking for new work and new challenges, and you need to push your brand message at every possible opportunity”.
This, allegedly, is the way of the future. To reach out to anyone in this attention-starved, noise-saturated world, to survive in a hyper-economy, you need to be faster, louder, and more aggressive, in your drive to make your name known and sell your services. To effectively reap the benefits of personalization, or effectively market yourself, you sacrifice privacy and anonymity, because everyone can see you.
If I look at the steps I have already taken without close examination, and those I plan to take in the next few months, I realise that I have already decided how much personalization I want, and how important the “brand of me” is.
I’m not “dropping off” the Internet. but I am giving up any illusions I may have had about active participation in the “web 2.0 revolution”. My plans are moving from the virtual world back in to the real world. More details will follow in the next few months; not that anyone will notice, since I have not effectively marketed myself or this site. Never mind Second Life; I have a First Life to live. 8)
If, like me, you have an interest in demographics and the state of the world, Google has just the tool for you: The Gapminder. Basically, it plots demographic data on a chart that is animated to let you plot changes over time.
For a sample of what makes this an engrossing tool, try the following:
- select Population on the x-axis, and Life Expectancy on the y-axis;
- hit Play to animate the chart over the period 1960-2004;
- watch what happens during the early 1990s; a little dot plummets to the bottom of the chart, then pops back up again;
- what country is that? Scroll the chart till the dot reaches bottom, and select it;
- the country is Rwanda, the stats for the point you select are shown on the axes.
- Play the chart again: Rwanda’s basic demographics are plotted as a line that bucks the expected upward trend.
- Not only does the Life Expectancy plummet to just 24 in 1992, between 1990 and 1995 the population drops from around 7 million to under 5½ million.
The dip in Rwanda’s population is, of course, the Rwandan Genocide; that is now part of history, but Zimbabwe’s Life Expectancy has been in the news. Mugabe’s repressive regime puts the Leader and his Ideology over all other concerns, including the basic health of Zimbabwe’s people. Sure enough, selecting Zimbabwe on the map lets you follow the country down, to a Life Expectancy of just 34 in 2004.
There are more stats in there now, and surely more to follow. I ought to find up some positive stats too, just to stop me getting too fatalistic, but positive stats are going to be hard to find in there. OK, Ireland now has the highest per capita earnings of any country in the world – but do I see any of that bounty?
Well, this is a turnip for the books. I’ve just got word that this blog has been accepted for membership in the 9rules network. I have more reading to do about it, to figure out just what’s involved and what I can contribute.
To the folks hopping over and taking a look, after the announcement on the 9rules blog – Hi There. There’s not much more to be said at this time: it’s 2am and I’m wilting slightly, having had about three hours of poor sleep in the last 36. I’m in Dubai at a friend’s place, stopping off for a couple of days on the way to Bangalore. I have a poor track record at sleeping on overnight flights, and this Aer Lingus jaunt from Dublin, landing at 5am local time, was no exception.
I don’t yet have a post about my spanking new Digital SLR camera, since I haven’t bought it yet, and only intend to do so if I can find a decent price in the Duty Free section of Dubai International Airport on Sunday. I’m a confirmed Pentax user, and have the lenses to show for it, so I have my eye on a K10D.
I’d better post this and hit the sack: the resident kitten is giving me strange looks and threatening to jump on the keyboard. Night all.
Schmap have an interesting business model: they take publicly-available material and fashion it in to travel guides, and use this in the marketing process. I only heard of them because they borrowed a photo of mine from Flickr, one that I had marked as available for commercial use under the Creative Commons license, and used it in their Dublin guide. This is something like what I had in mind, so no complaints on that score, as long as they provide proper attribution (which they have). So, grab a copy of the Dublin guide, and see some more of my work.That’s all – enjoy!
Ugh! I got photographed! That’s me in the middle, somewhere between two and three cans of Tuborg Green, on a boat in the middle of Copenhagen Harbour, about a week ago. The booze cruise was the precursor to the reboot 8 conference I attended, to bone up on my Web
2.0 2.1 concepts and knowledge.
The term Web 2.0 is slightly deprecated these days, ever since O’Reilly Publications started trying to stop anyone else using it in the context of a conference. I have my own concerns about the term, too, and while the conference gave me much food for thought, it hasn’t done much to quell my misgivings.
The short version is: it’s looking more and more like a cultural or even artistic phenomenom, rather than a business. A few (not many) of the speakers touched on “monetizing” Web 2.0 – making money out of it – but they generally appeared to be doing it out for fun and interest first, with business sense way down the list. I don’t have a problem with that at all: try too hard to make money from any form of culture, and you risk alienating an audience who generally does not need any of this – which ties in nicely with Brian Eno’s concept of culture as “everything we don’t have to do”.
I enjoyed a breakout session on “Sociology ABC”, which tried to condense a year’s worth of Sociology lectures in to 40 minutes, and was pretty successful at it too. My notes are quite long but contain gaps I’ll have to fill from memory or imagination.
I didn’t stay the full length of the conference: getting out to the farm to see friends and chill out was more important. I made several new friends there too: one Irish Cob horse, two Shetland ponies, three dogs, about seven sheep, and a Common Buzzard. Here’s one of the sheep, getting up close and personal before trying to eat my trousers.
Simple question, eh? It is today, but might not remain that way for much longer.
I subscribe to a whole bunch of RSS feeds, as you can see by the “bloglines blogroll” list on the right. Some of those talk about blogging, with certain assumptions, and the foremost of those is that the blogger has something to sell, and that is why he or she is blogging. Over four years since I started blogging, and I’m only asking this question now?
Let’s start with the philosophical: in various discussions I’ve had with people on the topic of religion, I arrived at an interesting conclusion. All religions have an evangelical element to them, to different degrees. Even Buddhism, the least pushy religions I know of, has a subtle “grassroots” marketing element to it The thing is: I’m an atheist, a term derived from what I don’t believe in. I have no sacred texts to follow, no rituals to observe. No gurus to worship – much as I appreciate what the likes of Richard Dawkins, Isaac Asimov, Richard P Feynman or Arthur C Clarke offer to those with inquiring minds and a sense of adventure.
In other words, there is no such thing as “evangelist atheism”. Sure, I may express concern at the negative effects of religion, but what do I say to an individual? “You’re wrong to believe?” I don’t need to try that to know what to expect. Besides, the old cliche still applies: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. I’m not trying to sell my philosophy to anyone; there would be no actual benefit to me, real or theoretical, if anyone bought it.
What about money, or my livelihood? This is where things may need to change a little. I’ve been in steady employment for six-and-a-half years, here in Ireland, which is longer than I expected to be. By the end of this year, or even sooner, I should have a good idea of how much longer I will be keeping my job, since my colleagues and I are allegedly too expensive. Lower costs are the reason I was brought to Ireland in the first place, and will be the reason my job heads to India or China. Who knows where I will go?
The reboot 8 conference next month is a chance to immerse myself in the possibilities opening up under the heading of “web 2.0″ – however you define it – and what, if anything I can get involved with. Where do I fit in? I don’t know. What I do know is: when I’m out looking for new employment I will need to focus on myself. Do a better job of identifying my key skills and enhancing them. Then I will have something to sell: an unpleasant prospect, but a nettle I will need to grasp.
As if that was not enough, I will have to consider the possibility of a limited public presence for myself. Not in any conventional media sense, but it seems to me that anyone with something serious to say in a technical field can’t do it behind a cloak of anonymity. The “brand of me” is something I’ve refused to countenance, and I still sneer at “celebrities” who are famous for nothing real or useful.
I’ve been an intensely private person all my life, and have always resisted giving out personally identifiable information. It’s been used against me in the past, by marketers, and by people turning up on my doorstep and making demands of me. Relaxing enough to use my own name in public is not going to be easy. I’m not even sure it’s possible, but enough time has passed to let me consider the possibility. Fear not: a career in politics is a very long way off.
Though I’m based in Dublin, Ireland, I’m not an “Irish Blogger”. The fact that I’m not Irish is only the half of it: I seem to have a completely different attitude to the “local” bloggers, starting with the concept of “local”.
For starters, I place very little importance on location and/or nationality. Of course these factors will be relevant to what I write, because they’re interesting details, but I could be in the UK, Europe, USA or Canada, for all the fundamental difference it makes to me. There are countries where location is a major influence – countries with reduced internet or press freedom – but Ireland is not one of those.
This is partly why I find the upcoming Web2Ireland conference amusing, but not terribly interesting. It’s got an Irish slant to it. It’s organised by an Irish government body, Enterprise Ireland. I’m not in the target market, as the blurb says:
Web2Ireland is for entrepreneurs, investors, software developers and for those in academia, politics and public policy.
Finally, and most importantly, my views on Web 2.0 would be completely out of place. I wrote a bit about this last week, but I would summarize my position as seeing Web 2.0 as an attitude that informs what you do and how you do it. It’s not a product, or a technology, or a standard, or anything else that can be neatly packaged in a form fit for sale to anyone.
While government is all about centralisation of power and resources, the web is about decentralisation, disintermediation, the removal of barriers between people and information. I see no need for any national government, Irish or otherwise, to try to “shape the agenda” or “help our country catch up”. It’s already here, because it’s already everywhere, it does not respect borders any more than Web 1.0 does.
Besides, how Web 2.0 is it to have a registration process that involves downloading and filling in a Microsoft Word document? Web 2.0 is as Web 2.0 does, people. This sends the message that your parochial little conference will be all talk, and no action. No thanks; I can wait for reboot at the beginning of June, my flights and hotel are already booked.
Since I signed up for the reboot 8 conference in Copenhagen at the start of June, I’ve been looking at it as a “web 2.0″ conference, but hoping it is more than that. What is Web 2.0? Wikipedia offers a useful summary of the history, current situation, and arguments for and against the use of the term. It also includes links to various commentary on the topic.
“Knowledge is organized information”: a motto that may sound simplistic, unless one takes into account the recursive nature of the process: by organizing information you are creating more information. When this process is able to run, and keep running, the results can be startlingly effective. Witness the rise of Wikipedia in the last year, the amount of time and effort that goes into it.
One criticism leveled at Wikipedia is that it is not an authoritative source: this is missing the point altogether. If anything, it is a reflection of the original idea I remember: the use of the Web to make connections between all manner of pieces or information, to let you find the authorative source. The differences in my view, is that it is centralized without (much) bureaucracy. Call it a “clearing house” for information on a topic: you may start there, but you won’t necessarily stop there, not if you are looking for anything authoritative. With that in mind, I’m not sure that it’s completely necessary to refer to Wikipedia as “Web 2.0″ at all. Or, to put it another way, could Web 2.0 be seen as the realisation of some (if not all) of the promises (implicit or explicit), made by the World Wide Web, version 1?
How Web 2.0 is Wikipedia? It doesn’t use AJAX, as far as I can see; the Wiki technology it uses is ancient by web standards, but that’s not what it’s about, if you ask me. A Wiki, in principle, is a web page that anyone can edit, a web publication under no strict editorial control. It takes advantage of the boundless brainpower, energy and goodwill offered by people passionate about a subject. Something’s missing or broken? We’ll fix it. It might not be right away – there’s no deadline imposed on me – but it’ll be done, probably quicker than you expect. The result, to me, screams Web 2.0, because it is all about knowledge and context, with added links to the authoritative content where possible.
Can I use the same principles at work? I currently work for a large US technology company, which makes various claims about its technology leadership. Yet, neither the people I work with, nor the company I work for, are remotely ready for Web 2.0, to be blunt. We spend so much of our available brainpower, in coping with the day-to-day stresses of our work, that gathering knowledge is a secondary consideration, and sharing knowledge still further down the list of priorities. I have been trying to encourage some knowledge sharing, using our internal Microsoft Sharepoint service, my colleagues are treating that as a place to post documents to read, and little else. I wish we could get into the relevance of the contents to us, and our work, and be able to summarize it.
Never mind Web 2.0: we’d be hard-pressed to call ourselves Web 1.0, given how hard we have to work to find the basic information we need to do our jobs, in any form, organized or not. The frustration is getting to us, and I’m clearly on the way out of my current role; that much would be clear, even if my job was not on its way to India. If the reboot 8 conference is to be any use to me, it will help me decide whether I have a future in the technology business at all, or if I should become a plumber or a teacher, or go and work with horses in a racing stable.
Two weeks without a post, for two good reasons. Work is one of them: when I’m at work, I’m really at work, with little time for much else, or energy to do much afterwards. Never mind that my job is being advertised in India today, quite literally: we have been told we will probably lose 30% of our staff this year, and we expect the figure to be more like 50%.
The other reason is related to travel. At the beginning of this year I thought there would be little travel this year, but it’s turning out rather differently. The photo above is from a quickly-organised trip to London last weekend, for shopping, and to meet up with some old friends. We did something I had never done in eight years in London: visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. Once past the “tourist trap” – £9 to get through the door! – it was actually fairly interesting. It’s not hard to see how the dome was designed to instil feelings of awe and submission in Christians, through innovative use of space and acoustics.
The crypt was interesting, with its memorials to all manner of soldiers and nobles. I was surprised to see one to my namesake, 1st Baron Roy Thomson of Fleet, the Scots-Canadian media baron with the clout to get my family its own tartan. Then, the 530 steps up to the Golden Gallery, with its amazing views of London. I’ve added some pictures to my image gallery, follow the link behind the picture above.
The next trip is in ten days’ time, to Portugal, a few days holiday that includes a wedding of a colleague from work. I’ll be staying in the northern resort of Esposende, and hoping the weather plays fair with me, something not guaranteed in that part of the world at this time of year. Rather than fly to Porto via Stansted on RyanAir, I’ll fly direct to Lisbon by Aer Lingus and take the train up the coast to Porto.
As if that wasn’t enough, I have a “two birds, one stone” trip to Denmark at the end of May: after visiting the reboot 8 conference, I’ll be visiting friends on a farm for a weekend. The farm is quite some way from Copenhagen, in the middle of the island of Fyn (Funen), a hundred kilometers away. The conference is all about “Web 2.0″, something I am still profoundly sceptical about, especially when it comes to privacy matters. I can’t help wondering just what I’m missing, so this will be an opportunity to find out.
Since my job security is clearly limited, I know I have to look beyond my normal hardware / operating system interests in the IT world, and even beyond that.
It’s now well after 2AM, and much as I’m enjoying the live baseball on cable TV – Japan flattening Cuba in the World Championships in San Diego – I have work on Monday, and need to stick to a sensible circadian rhythm, for the next week at least. After that, only the day of my return flight from Portugal requires an early start, and I can sleepwalk through that connection.
This is an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal, about the “original content” industry. It confirms something I have long suspected, but hoped I was wrong about. (A recurring theme in my experience of the Internet.)
Google, the search engine, operates by scoring web pages using a methodology they originally called PageRank, though the actual system in use today is more complex and confidential. It provides search results based on many factors, including the uniqueness and ubiquity of references to the topic you’re searching on. It is subject to intense scrutiny by “Search Engine Optimizers”, a nascent business model that already has the abbreviation SEO.
I’ve missed out on most of this, because the kinds of things offered by scammers are not the things I ever search Google for, to put it bluntly. If I ever thought I could find Viagra(TM) or other drugs by searching Google, I would be quickly disabused of that notion; years of fighting spam email have given me a good idea of what the scams are. SEO, in my opinion, is merely an extension of spam email to search engines.
Comment Spam, Link Blogs, and so on – the tools of SEO – are ways of increasing the ubiquity of links to those “businesses”: a way to get links to your site from thousands of other sites. This site has been mostly resistant to those, because of the filters I put on comments – allowing only a couple of links, and none of the blacklisted scam keywords. I now use WordPress 2, which builds in the Akismet spamcatcher, to good effect.
The WSJ article is about the other issue, of uniqueness. As the author found, there is a sub-industry dedicated to “content creation”, where all the “author” is expected to do is make their work unique enough to pass Google’s filters. It doesn’t pay well, has no respect for copyright, and is generally an insult to any author worthy of the title.
Once again I’m reminded of the Tragedy of the Commons. Google is providing its search results at no (direct) cost to either its users or those whose pages it searches and ranks. For example, this site has been searched repeatedly, and is highly ranked for certain specialities, such as the Akai MPC1000 that I wrote a FAQ on. There is not much competition in this area, but in areas where there is, it seems that anything goes.
It might not be related to scams, exclusively – and the SEO businesses would have you believe there are legitimate applications – but I have to ask what the point is. After all, any modern business model relies on differentiation: what are you offering that someone else is not? SEOs are selling a shortcut to differentiation by putting you, and not someone else with an identical offering, at the top of the results returned by Google. Yet: if your business model is valid, by the standards imposed by e.g. a bank loan committee, you do not really need SEO, do you? Conclusion: it is not a tool for a legitimate business, yet legitimate businesses have already been caught in the act. (Why did BMW think it necessary, for example?)
In the field of internet search, where we are bombarded with Information yet starved of Knowledge, where Attention is the most limited and valuable commodity… SEO still appears, to me, incredibly shortsighted and counterproductive. I’ll stop writing and post this, before I start swearing about bottomfeeders…