Social Profile – I’m interesting and boring


Disraeli’s quip, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” could do with “and Facebook” tagged onto it, although it wouldn’t roll off the tongue so well, I have to admit.

I just received a spam mail notification from Facebook’s Social Profile app, where friends can rate you. Here are my results:

… your strengths:

best travel companion
best scientist

… your weaknesses:

best companion on a desert island

Apart from the fact that I’m far from being a scientist – maybe the egghead and specs give that impression – how can I be the “best travel companion” and then worst “companion on a desert island”? Aren’t they the same thing?

In the words of Pauline Hanson, please explain…

[tags]facebook, socialnetworks, statistics[/tags]

Facebook and Identity Theft

There has been quite a lot in the news about privacy concerns with Facebook as well as it being used for investigations. Living in a country that was home to the Nazis and the Stasi got me thinking…

I’m on Facebook as you might imagine and, if you are reading this, probably already know. I joined a group called “Wisdom of the Crowdys” today that Mike Coulter set up. It has turned out to be the only interesting Facebook group I’m a member of and the conversation turned to privacy issues and identity theft. But I think the news stories about it being used for investigations are the opposite to the issues of identity theft and they often get lumped together.

Investigations using all your online information might be successful because of the trail you leave, a trail that can only become larger thanks to Facebook. That’s potentially a massive privacy issue in terms of civil liberties, especially if you believe some of the background to Facebook. I’m hoping the Stasi-effect comes into play and there is simply too much information out there to manage – it became their undoing in the end. (For a good read on this, check out Stasiland by Anna Funder).

Identity theft, as I understand it happening, involves two parts to be really successful – one is obviously gaining access to someone else’s accounts and life essentials. The other is the target person either not finding out or finding it hard to prove they are the real person.

I think the main danger is your date of birth and address being left out there in the open all in one place. Those two give access to a surprisingly large number of things from which identity theft could happen, but that stuff is pretty easy to find anyway. Let’s say, also, that your mum was added to your friends and your parents were divorced and she reverted to her maiden name – that’s another common security question. With those and a few account numbers (from, say, stealing someone’s e-mail or snail mail) you’ve got what you need to at least take over a few utility and telco bills. That’s the first step to then proving to a bank that they are, well, you.

But the flipside is this: If you have a fairly prevalent online presence – across many sources and blogs, etc. leaving more of a trace helps you prove you are who you say you are. A combination of Google’s image cache, plus all those other Web 2.0 accounts you have mean there is a lot more identity to have to steal for it to be complete. It makes a piece of paper or plastic with a photo or address on it look pretty quaint.

It might not stop you getting cleaned out, but it might help you prove it to the bank afterwards.

What do you think?

How children use the Internet

I found Richard Sarson’s piece, The Kids Are Alright Online, over at the Guardian interesting today. He interviews children about their internet usage and the role technology plays in their lives. It has a lot to do with the issues we discuss in the Omnium Project, so I’ve blogged about it there instead of double-posting here if you want to take a look.

One thing caught my eye, though, that I’ll repeat here:

Broadly, Josh, Anna and James all use similar sites and programs in similar ways: their favourite sites are MySpace, Bebo, MSN, YouTube, the iTunes Store and they play World of Warcraft. Why one rather than another? Because “their friends are on there already”; loyalty can shift en masse. They do like sites to be easy to use. Josh prefers Bebo because he finds MySpace “fiddly”.

Not only do I, too, find MySpace an absolute interface design hell, but the notion that loyalty can shift en masse is really crucial to anyone working in this area. It shows how quickly your humming community can become a ghost town. It’s worth reading Mike’s links on the Network Effect for why it’s so crucial to look after everyone in your community or customer base.

The Brain Behind

I’m not sure how old this interview with Joshua Schachter, inventor of, is but it’s a fascinating insight into the Wisdom of Crowds. It therefore comes as no surprise that the interview is by Wisdom of Crowds author, James Surowiecki.

Having spent time working on building up several communities, often in an educational context there is such a valuable lesson to be learned by making people’s essentially selfish natures to work for the common good. Says Schachter:

“Im not a big believer in expecting a large number of people to act in an altruistic fashion. You want to rely on people to do what they do.”

There are lessons for education here too, which tends to suffer from the fact that more students = more money but also a worse product (i.e., learning experience) because of the way education is currently structured. There are plenty of situations, communities in particular, where more people make things more powerful:

Schachter has already shown that out of the seeming chaos of hundreds of thousands of independent and eccentric judgments, order and wisdom can emerge. And if you think about in terms of his idea of making memory scalable, he’s also helped create a rather remarkable social memory system, in which all of us are able to find more and better information than we would on our own. As Schachter puts it, “The one who stashes a page doesn’t have to be the one who ends up recalling it. is a storer of one’s own attention. But it also means you can share it with others.” And that ability will only become more valuable over time. “The better you understand the world, the better you’ll do.”

(Thanks for the original link via Pat Kane at Play Journal )

Be A Good Friend

My Social Fabric

What a joy to discover Steven Blyth’s My Social Fabric project (thanks to Mike Coulter at Digital Agency). Essentially the My Social Fabric project gives all your friends an avatar that gives you visible feedback to the state of your relationship with them. Haven’t been in touch for a while? Maybe they’re giving you a moody look. Forgot their birthday? They turn their back on you.

My Social Scene - close up. Number 8 is not happy

Apart from being a cute piece of interaction design, it also highlights a way of thinking which taps into the human ability to recognise emotions from even the vaguest posture. Most of us have had the experience of recognising a friend’s silhouette in the distance just by their gait. My Social Fabric relies on that to give you a sense of your social network at a glance.

Those of you out there who may be thinking this is all a bit emotionally disconnected and really should we be able to tell or remember by our contact with the real person might have a point. On the other hand it is very easy when travelling a lot or working a great deal or living in another country to forget.

There is more on the design process here and be sure to check out some of the scenario videos.

Steal This Film

Steal This Film

I finally got around to discovering, downloading and watching the documentary, Steal This Film about the MPAA’s attempts to shut down the Swedish BitTorrent tracker site, The Pirate Bay. Of course it’s available for free download at Steal This Film and the Pirate Bay and its method of distribution is, naturally, BitTorrent.

The interesting thing for me is that I decided to not watch TV tonight and watch this on my laptop instead. I unwittingly (well, maybe wittingly) did exactly what I said Apple’s iTV media centre would mean people would do in my previous post. That is, I decided to watch some free, independently produced content instead. Because I downloaded the podcast version, it ended up in (the new) iTunes and it was a pretty seamless experience actually.

So here’s the deal: Independently produced content, distributed for free essentially (because BitTorrent makes use of everyone’s spare bandwidth) and it has already been seen by several thousand people (I’d love to know the actual numbers if someone out there knows).

Lawrence Lessig posted a link to a commentary on the film on Open Business, which makes a couple of key points:

The footage was simply stored on a 250 GB external hard-drive which now costs less than £80. The once-prohibitively expensive HD video cameras were borrowed and editing software, of course, downloaded. All in all the movie surely cost less than £2000 and had been downloaded by over two thousand internet users in its first day of release. While the movie makes some use of copyrighted material to illustrate its points most of it is either news footage from TV or original footage.

Later on the post says:

Remember Tarnation? Its just a year or two ago when this movie made international headlines, because it won a film price and was produced with a budget of 218US $ using iMovie. This was seen then as truly revolutionary.

Well, that was then and for distribution the movie still had to use professional networks to be seen an to get into cinemas. Now a couple of friends could also go with somebody like the Piratebay for marketing and distribution. This is film production completely outside the traditional industry. Its not too far off to see the Piratebay acting like a professional film company.

So combined with the ease of watching this stuff on your TV (and lets face it, sitting in front of a computer watching films is a little nerdy still, even though I do it quite often) and an open distribution model there are many costs that immediately get covered.

The filmmakers also set up the ubiquitous buy the T-shirt site and Paypal donation account so it might also make some money that way to enable them to make the second part. There’s also a wiki if you want to contribute to the process.

The real point is that it opens up the debate about copyright and copyright abuse. Also frightening is the willingness of the US government to put pressure on the Swedish government to act illegally by raiding the Pirate Bay in the first place.

Re-imagining Higher Education

Recently I have been giving much thought to the structure and issues that most of us in Higher Education have been struggling with for several years. There are three areas of thought that come together when re-imagining education, particularly within Art and Design education. The theory of the Long Tail, the Play Ethic and Cradle to Cradle sustainability. Each of these requires a radical turn-around in current ways of thinking. Tweaking the edges won’t do.

What if we thought about education the same way we thought about our other precious resources or the same way that we think about the changing face of the media? The full post after the jump is quite long, but covers a lot of thought. If you would prefer to read off-line, you can download a PDF version (with references) here.

Continue reading “Re-imagining Higher Education”

You Tube Advertising Dollars

Some enlightening “theoretical” figures being bounced around in Endgaget’s series about You Tube’s potential for generating revenue. Clicker contributor, Stephen Speicher, even came up with a new metric – “Eyeball Minutes” (but are these adjusted to account for those with only one eye?)

I have written quite often about this previously (see related links below), in particular the relationship to traditional TV shows and advertising. So it’s great to see some figures, however theoretical, being produced about how this might work. Speicher, once again, uses Judson Laipply’s “Evolution of Dance” clip as an example (my goodness, Judson must be pretty happy right now – 15,529,686 downloads as of today and it’s not even that funny):

Just for fun let’s do one other comparison. Let’s look at ad revenue:

Again we will use “Evolution of Dance” as a comparison. If you still don’t think that micro-content could be a macro business, consider the following. Six minutes of network content would be accompanied by 1 minute and 30 seconds of advertising. For a show with 15 million viewers, expect an ad rate in the neighborhood of 200k per 30 second slot. That’s right; “Evolution of Dance” would garner 600k dollars in ad revenue if calculated with basic “network math.

Check the all three stories for more – it’s an interesting read.


Warner Bros. to distribute via BitTorrent
How downloads will save tv
More TV vs Internet debate with Ian Methods
New ipod – is the TV party over?
iTorrent – will Apple come to the BitTorrent party?

Warner Bros. to distribute via BitTorrent

I can’t believe I missed this story last week, but Warner Bros. have finally started to get their head around the idea that BitTorrents are the most efficient way to distribute large files online and have announced they’ll start seeding their movies when released onto DVD. So, only about three years too late and after trying to shut down most BitTorrent servers for ages.

From Yahoo’s story:

“If we can convert 5, 10, 15 percent of the peer-to-peer users that have been obtaining our product from illegitimate sources to becoming legitimate buyers of our product, that has the potential of a huge impact on our industry and our economics,” said Kevin Tsujihara, president of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group.

It’s exactly what lots of people have been banging on about for some time. I would have loved to have listened into the conversations at Warner Bros. about this because I imagine there are some very smart people there and some old-guard dunderheads who wrangled over this for a while. There’s not much mention of how they plan to avoid piracy or whether they have given up on this to a certain degree. But here’s the whiff of compromise:

The studio also will sell permanent copies of films and TV shows online that can be burned to a backup DVD, although the copy will only play on the computer used to download the film and not on standard DVD players.

That’s pretty lame. It fails to recognise the increasing trend of people networking their computers/media centres with their AV set-ups or use the computer as an entertainment ‘pip’e into the house before then deciding where they can play it. It’s like buying a DVD and being told you can only play it in the bedroom, but not in your lounge. And in what way is that a guard against piracy? Anyone really interested in large scale DVD burning style piracy will go a different route (and almost certainly any DRM will be cracked in no time).

The lawyers obviously got their “marketing point” into the story too:

Studios believe that offering reasonably priced legal alternatives will be preferable to downloading files that could contain viruses or poor quality copies of films.

This is always the “scary internet” tactics that copyright lawyers use. It’s akin to telling people smoking is bad for them – people who do it know the risks. In general files I’ve seen tend to be excellent – they’re simply rips from a DVD and quality certainly isn’t an issue (which is why the studios are so paranoid about digital files in the first place).

Ultimately its good to see a major studio take a step in the right direction (and entertaining to see BitTorrent’s Web site suddenly go all glossy and corporate – even the .org site is all pseudo Web 2.0 styled) – when did that happen? I must have been sleeping…)

The article does make a common factual error though:

Last year, BitTorrent agreed to remove links to pirated versions of movies from its Web site.

I’m reasonably certain that BitTorrent never had any illegal versions of movies on its Web site, that’s the whole point, a torrent file is just checksum information, not the actual data file itself. That’s why it’s been so hard for the MPAA to get a handle on a roving swarm. Smells like lawyer talk to me.


Check out Retrievr – it allows you to search the Flickr image archive by drawing a sketch (or uploading another picture) instead of by tags. A kind of visual tagging/search idea. It’s surprisingly nice, and nicely surprising – as it is doing image matching in terms of hues, patterns, tones, etc. it doesn’t see images as things (e.g. a face is a bunch of blotches, not a face) so it makes some interesting associations. I, of course, uploaded a picture of myself and ended up with a picture of an apple in return. Nice. That’s what baldness does for you. It’s built by some clever folk at System One.

(Gosh, Flickr started a trend with this whole no ‘e’ before the ‘r’ business didn’t they?).