05Nov/13

The Eye of the Twitterstorm – xHuming Joseph Priestley

Priestley.key

 

I’ll write up the xHumed talk asap, Joseph Priestley sending this Tweet:

 

Resulted in this reaction (in statistics) up till about 3 hours later:

TweetReach_jpriestley1733.pdf__page_1_of_15_

 

22Oct/13

Twitter Hours, the Cargo Cults of online networking.

For a thing, I’ve been investigating some Twitter communities I wouldn’t usually go anywhere near. Most due to lack of interest but one sort due to a distaste of a lot of what it sets out to do. That one was the concept of a timed Twitter chat hour—there are loads of these, they often have a host account that welcomes people, but essentially it’s a free form IM-style chat around a pre-defined hashtag such as #WestMidsHour.

So far so a lovely community, coming together to make loose connections form weak bonds, boiling up the social glue that will bing them together. But it doesn’t really work like that. Look at the stream of one of these Twitter chats and it broadly goes like this: People looking forward to the #hour

People apologising for not being around for the #hour

People saying hello at the start of the hour.

The host retweeting some of the hellos and welcoming people to the #hour.


People essentially posting one line classified ads for their business.

People re-posting those ads slightly differently as they move off the top of the timeline.

People saying how much they enjoyed the #hour: see you next time.

 

 

Oh, and people who can’t just stay loyal to one #hour…

 

 

Or even week.

 

But what you don’t see is interaction or conversation. The number of @replies is low, ideas don’t develop and it doesn’t seem like connections are really made. Most are taking rather than listening, you can only assume that people aren’t reading.

The types of people using the hashtags seem very much to be the same sort of people that attend networking functions up and down the country and the conversation seems to be as sharp and about as useful. You might by chance bump into the exact bit of information you need, but it doesn’t harness the power of the network in using connections to search.

Like the Cargo Cults who acted out the bringing down of supply planes in the south seas without any understanding of what they were doing, the Twitter Hour participants have all the ingredients in place to have a community and act out conversaion without any of the knowledge or the benefits. It looks like a networked conversation, acts like a networked conversation, is collected together like a networked conversation: but it just doesn’t quack like one.

12Nov/12

By and about

There was a piece featuring me and the sale of BiNS on the BBC News site last week. As ever with ‘news’ I felt the interesting stuff didn’t make it to the actual article and in fact I’m sure I didn’t say anything about gaps quite like that. I thought what I said was a bit more like this tweet:

But that’s the way it goes.

There’s also two writing projects that I’ve contibuted to over the last few days. One is 280 stops—a sort of Internet piece of collaborative fiction. I’ll let Jon Hickman explain:

“This is a tribute to two wonderful things: the 11 bus route which runs through Birmingham (oh, and bits of Solihull and Sandwell), and Geoff Ryman’s novel/website 253.”

The other is not fictional at all. An idea by Jez Collins and Craig Hamilton‘101 Things Birmingham Gave the World’ is a tumblr that celebrates Birmingham’s impact on World Culture.

22Oct/12

Why I’m giving up Birmingham: It’s Not Shit

At some point over the weekend, I decided to out the low level moving on campaign and put my most famous website up for sale on eBay.

I started the site back in the May of 2002, before there were really such things as blogs in the mainstream and the term ‘hyperlocal’ was not even a glint in an irritating theorist’s eye. Pretty much everything that’s ever been on it, and definitely everything technical was written or created by me, I’ve had a couple of ‘columnists’ for short whiles and a couple of bits of ‘holiday cover’ but that’s all. The site was flat, hand coded HTML until I learned of PHP and wrote a simple news updating section. Later I discovered that there wasn’t only a name for such things but software out there to do it more prettily and better.

And now it, or sites like it, are either the future of the media or a disappointment to those that thought they should be.

But, it didn’t start because the media was dying, it started because the media was crap: crap at explaining why people connected emotionally with a place that—when looked at objectively—was a bit shit. Crap at self awareness, crap at understanding real life. The media has changed a little, but mostly the contents have just shifted in transit.

I have always been proud of it being not only independent, but seen to be, so not taking advertising and clearly marking anything churned from a press release was always part of the plan. It was fun at times, maybe important and influential at others, but always fairly time consuming and costly. I’ve got lots of other stuff on now, and for the first time in years a regularly hour-ed job (that’s also in another city)—so it’s time to give up.

There’s also a way in which the landscape of ‘hyperlocal publishing’ has changed—the Corinthian spirit beaten down by encroachment of money or officialdom: from ad sales bullshitters to quango reports that do nothing but serve the interests of the establishment. I don’t have the energy to fight, but don’t want to lose that battle really. So the idea is to let someone with the energy try something else with the cultural cache that the site’s built up. There is a way forward for local content created by people that can reach an audience without aping what’s gone before, but just right now I don’t know what it is.

And I’d like to recoup some of the costs if possible, so I’m selling.

I’ll no doubt return to the themes, and the location, but for now time’s up.

(Here’s what I said just over two years ago about how it all started, I still think pretty much the same.)

15Sep/12

The worst captain in the World

I was on Danny Baker’s Radio Five show earlier, which was great. I’ve always been a big fan of his and consider him to be one of the few genuinely innovative and brilliant broadcasters.

I’d texted in in response to a question about being a terrible sporting captain, and it was a good opportunity to tell about when I was captain of Dogpool Rovers in South Birmingham Sunday League Division Three:

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25Jul/12

Improving the happiness index

After my talk at Oxford Geek Night I was happy to have a couple of suggestions to see if the algorithm could produce better results. One was to remove retweets from the search, which makes sense as we all know from many Twitter bios “a RT does not imply endorsement”—and that was easy to implement as the basic Twitter search api returns retweets ‘old-style’ with “RT” at the head.

The other was more complex, so I’m going to quote Owen who emailed me directly:

“This morning I thought up an analogy. Suppose you have weather readings for the last 100 days. For each day you have temperature (T), humidity (H) and mm of precipitation (P). What you’re doing is multiplying these all together, presumably because you want to get one number out. Unfortunately this number is meaningless. If you wanted to combine these quantities in some way you should really be thinking about what meaning you’re attaching to the number you get out. I’m ignoring here the fact that you multiplied them all together, when in all likelihood adding them would make more sense. I suggest it would be more meaningful to keep track of them separately, and plot three graphs instead of one. Indeed, this is what is done with weather data.

You spoke about wanting to get a measure of how much spread a set of data has. What you want is the variance, or something like it. The average (more properly called the mean) of a set of numbers is obtained by adding them all up and dividing by the total number. This tells you something very useful, but it loses all information about how spread out the information was. The variance captures that. It’s a bit tricky to calculate. I’ll try to explain it here, but you can always google for more details. Suppose you have numbers a1 up to a100. The average is M = (a1 + a2 + … + a100) / 100. The calculate the variance we have to calculate some intermediate numbers. First, you have to calculate the average. Then you have to calculate the average of each number squared: Z = (a1^2 + … + a100^2) / 100. Now the variance is V = Z – M. I know that doesn’t seem to make much sense. There is a way of calculating the variance which makes it clearer why it’s any use, but it’s a bit harder to actually implement.

You might want to square root the variance to get the standard deviation. This is measured on the same scale as the original numbers you had, so it makes a bit more sense to use that instead.”

So, @IsOxfordHappy and the location sensitive page now do both of those. I’ve removed the ‘word scale’ for the time being till I can see roughly what the numbers are. Thanks everyone for your suggestions.

25Jul/12

Open government, data and transparency

While working on Siôn Simon’s push for there to be a directly elected Mayor for Birmingham I contributed an ideas paper around the possibilities for a more open system of government in the city. It covered open data (in broad strokes rather than technical details), comms and transparency. It was always a plan for the team that ideas and plans be released as soon as they were ready—happy for any other campaigner to use what we thought were good things.

So, when the referendum went against us I talked to a few people about releasing this stuff anyway. I couldn’t do any harm, I figured. It’s taken me a while to get round to it.

These docs were my own work, so don’t take them as being ‘official’, I’m also not planning to do anything with them at this stage. Some of the ideas may already be part of the political plan of the city’s new council leadership, but to be honest I don’t know.

Feel free to use any of this if it’s interesting.

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