Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

This tweet appeared amidst a Tweetdeck sea of grief and eulogies, prompted by the death of Steve Jobs.

I caught my breath a little. And I was caught in two minds.

On the one hand it was classic, no-holds-barred Mash satire. Funny, frankly.

On the other the Mash tweet “broke” at the same time as news of Jobs’ death was breaking for many people. It wasn’t just topical satire. It was real time. I wish I had grabbed an image of my Tweetdeck screen at the time to show the context in which the tweet appeared. Too early? Too disrespectful?

I thought about it but decided not to retweet.

And I thought nothing more about it until I saw this xkcd cartoon, entitled ETERNAL FLAME. I have included both the animated gif version and a static image showing the rollover text.

On reflection this is all about context.

The context in which the Mash tweet appeared was created by me.

Twitter is primarily a professional tool. It is a highly efficient means of accessing and disseminating relevant information. And its efficiency in this role is a direct result of the people whom I’ve chosen to follow.

Given the industry in which I work this highly efficient information transfer network contains more than its fair share of evangelical, earlier-than-early adopters of just about any object that Apple decides to produce. It’s not surprising therefore that, on the morning of Thursday 6th October, Tweetdeck resembled a 140 character wake.

The Daily Mash doesn’t share this context. Its church is much broader than mine. As you can see from the image above, more than 100 people took a different path to me and did retweet it.

It is also the nature of Twitter that you see Daily Mash headlines out of the context provided by the full content of each article. If you read the Mash article in full you’ll see that there is no disrespect for the man. Indeed, Paul Stokes, founder of the Mash was kind enough to confirm this for me.

We don’t make fun of tragedy on the Mash. Yes the headline might bring some people up sharp, but the piece is probably as close to an affectionate tribute that you’ll ever get from the Mash.

The Mash piece was written by site editor Neil Rafferty and is modestly described by Stokes as…

…a brilliantly constructed and perfectly judged piece that summed up in a few hundred very funny words what other commentators struggled to get to in thousands.

A sentiment echoed by at least one Mash reader…

Which begs the question what exactly was the Mash article satirising?

Looking at it again I think the Mash anticipated and highlighted the ridiculous over-reaction of a small but vocal group of Apple devotees. It’s one thing to admire the man. I personally think it was a little over the top for people who had never met him to gush publicly and uncontrollably to the extent that they did about the extent to which he had changed their lives. Maybe it wasn’t actually that far fetched for some commentators to compare the reaction to the death of Jobs to that of Princess Diana.

This (over?) reaction, not the man, was the subject of their satire. A point I missed because of the insular context I had created for myself.

Satire is about providing much needed balance. Indeed, it often fills a vacuum left by the serious coverage of an issue in this respect.

When it came to balanced serious coverage of Jobs’ death, one article stood out from all others for me.

Unlike so many of the tweeters who provided my initial context, Stephen Fry had actually met Steve Jobs. And, unlike said tweeters, his measured assessment of the man and his contribution was both heartfelt and objective. It is a dignified and insightful piece of writing.

The Mash, xkcd and Stephen Fry all read the context better than I did.


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Kevin Kelly’s post on the Technium blog has just taken over my Friday evening.

It includes a link to the Google Ngram viewer.

The what?

The Google/University Consortium has digitised over 15 million books so far, and the Ngram viewer allows you to investigate the frequency of use of various words in various languages over two centuries.

It’s absolutely addictive.

Here is the somewhat frivolous example from which this post draws its title.

(Interesting to note that the popularity of “madonna” falls away significantly in the final years of the 20th Century.)

(And that “beatles” was as popular in the early 1800’s as it was in the 1960’s.)

Here’s a less trivial example, comparing the frequency of use of “machine”, “rocket”, “computer” and “automobile”.

Utterly fascinating.

Signing off to keep playing. Cheerio.

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Actually make that time lapse photography with Instalapse, Hipstacase, Gorillapod, a large Velux window, a 30m extension cable and several volumes of the 1955 edition Chambers’s Encyclopedia.

Sophisticated time lapse photography rig.

Instalapse first.

Instalapse is an iPhone app that makes time lapse photography pretty darn easy actually. You set the interval between shots, set the number of shots (the app tells you what length of video you will generate for a given number of shots), frame your image area and press start. At the end of the shooting sequence you press a button to render the still frame shots into a movie. Then you can save, share, export etc at your leisure. It really is that simple.

And, despite some negative reviews in the App Store to the effect that the app kept crashing when rendering longer movies, I’ve had no problems whatsoever thus far. (Touches wood).

Obviously you need to keep the iPhone still whilst it takes its shots. The film below condenses about 75 minutes of cloud “action” into 23 seconds via roughly 575 shots at 8 second intervals.

Enter the Hipstacase.

Not only is the Hipstacase cool (IMHO). It is also functional in that it comes with a tripod adaptor that fits into a hidden slot on the case.

Hipstacase & Gorillapod

(Read this for the brilliant customer service encounter I had with the guys at Hipstamart – the analogue commercial end of the Hipstamatic franchise.)

As featured in the above shot, the Hipstacase allows the iPhone to be attached to the ultra-useful, prehensile piece of kit called the  Gorillapod. Awesome.

So now we’re rigged.

Here is the fruits of these labours. The skies over Fife. Brought to you by a great mobile device, a clever app, a cool case, the Action Man (with gripping hands) of the tripod world, some dusty books and a big window at the top of our stairs.

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Or, put another way, Hipstamatic is a “proper” business as well as a (very) good photography application.

I posted last year about how, from the outset, Hipstamatic was walking the walk in terms of monetisation. It clearly had a business plan to go with its idea and its excellent execution.

It’s time for an update.

It’s time for an update because I’ve had first hand experience of how that business plan has moved on, and of how Hipstamatic has turned into a proper business.

This picture tells a couple of important stories.

1) Hipstamatic’s business has moved on from a) charging for the app, and b) charging for add-on “Hipstapaks” containing new lens/film combinations. They now offer merchandise and analogue products like the iPhone case featured above through their Hipstamart. You can create an account and order this stuff online as opposed to buying the Hipstapaks through the app. It’s a “proper” e-commerce set-up.

2) Barely legible in the footer navigation at this blog-cropped size is a Customer Support function. This too is “proper” as I’ve found out to my delight in the last couple of days.

I ordered an iPhone case partly because I like all things Hipsta, but mainly because it comes with a tripod adaptor.

However, for reasons which I believe were beyond Hipstamart’s control, the case has thus far failed to arrive.

Being the impatient type I took a double-barrelled approach to “reaching out”, both via Get Satisfaction and via Customer Support.

Having experienced the extremely flaky, if not non-existent, customer support functions behind far too many over-hyped but under-financed web 2.0 brands my expectations were low.

Way too low as it turns out.

I had genuinely helpful, genuinely concerned responses within hours (Customer Support) and within minutes (Get Satisfaction).

My problem has been solved by Angelina in Customer Support. Quick, professional, customer-focused. Very impressive.

The kind of impressive that can only be delivered by a proper, robust business with proper, sustainable income streams.

“Proper” comes at a price that all too many app-based businesses (or rather non-businesses) evidently can’t afford.

What is really exciting for Hipstamatic/Hipstamart is that the price of “proper” doesn’t include any loss of brand cool, cachet or hipness.

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11.30 pm Heading to bed. Light on under the door to eldest daughter’s bedroom.


11.31 pm WiFi modem on. Flickering LED light indicates that bandwidth is being used. Coincidence?


11.32 pm WiFi modem switched off.


11.33 pm Light under bedroom door goes out. Assume that iPod Touch, rendered useless for the purpose of communicating with other 14 year olds by the lack of WiFi, has also been switched off. “Busted” as they say.


11.34 pm Proceed to bed. No words exchanged.

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My kids are tripping nostalgically on Tamagotchis.

And they’re not the only ones.

The reason that my kids are tripping (nostalgically) is that they found out that lots of other kids like them are too (tripping) (nostalgically) (on Facebook).

So, just like “we” used to trip nostalgically in the high school playground about the “silly” programmes that we watched as nippers – Roobarb & Custard, Cloppa Castle etc – they now do the same about “silly” retro technology on Facebook.

(Fuck me. Roobarb and Custard are on Twitter and Facebook!)

TV programmes => Technology

Playground => Facebook

I don’t remember rushing from the playground to the shops to buy a nostalgic VHS copy of Cloppa Castle.

But I have watched three of my kids bid, fail, bid, fail, bid, buy secondhand Tamagotchis on eBay. They use my iTunes account on their iPods so that I can keep an eye on their app purchasing. And last week my iPhone kept lighting up with “you’ve just been outbid” push messages.

They have spent roughly £7, £7 and £9 of their own pocket money on toys that they almost certainly won’t be playing with this time next month.

Plus ça change and all that.

The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have
no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all
restraint. They talk as if they alone knew everything and what passes
for wisdom with us is foolishness with them.

(Aristotle - or possibly Peter The Hermit apparently - a long, long time ago).

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Crowdlistr is a simple, smart idea that adds value to Twitter users who are interested in community. It allows you to open your Twitter lists such that, rather than self-curating, other users can add themselves. It facilitates a crowd-sourced approach to creating a Twitter list.

You create a list in Twitter, then sign into Crowdlistr using Twitter OAuth, click a button to open the list(s) of your choice and you’re done. Crowdlistr gives you a bespoke URL for that list, at which other people can add themselves with a single click.

Crowdlistr was conceived and executed by Yahel Carmon, a smart guy who can code and who was nice enough to answer my questions about his creation.

I stumbled upon Crowdlistr on behalf of the EdTwinge crew.

(EdTwinge is a crowd-sourced, Twitter-based, Edinburgh Festival Fringe review service – click for a fuller explanation of the service and the maths behind it.)

We’re gradually revving things up ready for this year’s Fringe, and part of this is generating a Twitter list of acts and performers at the 2011 festival.

I wondered whether it would be possible to open our list up to allow the acts to add themselves, rather than us having to conduct laborious searches.

Enter Crowdlistr via Google (Crowdlistr is the number three return at the time of writing).

I created a list of 2011 Fringe acts (pre-populated with 70 known acts) and then opened it up via Crowdlistr. And, for about ten days (at the time of writing) I’ve promoted the list in tweets from the EdTwinge Twitter account and via a link in the bio.

So far about 40 acts have added themselves to the list, of whom 14 have also subscribed to follow it, as can be seen from the grab of the Crowdlistr dashboard below.

Two things struck me about the early progress.

Firstly, all the crowd-sourced additions to the list are genuine Fringe acts. No bogus additions. No spammers.

Secondly, if you compare (already) this year’s open list with last year’s closed lists, there appears to be a clear correlation between adding yourself to a list and a propensity to subsequently subscribe to that list. A much higher proportion of this year’s list members are subscribers. (And remember that I had pre-populated the list with 70 acts, so 14 out of 40 people have added themselves and subscribed).

I decided to “reach out” to Crowdlistr’s creator, Yahel Carmon, and put these points to him to see if EdTwinge’s experiences had been shared by others. And he was kind enough to respond and share the insights below.

We’ve had a gratifyingly spam-free experience of Crowdlistr thus far. Has our positive experience been share by others?

Contrary to my original concerns, spammers adding themselves to lists has yet to present itself as a problem. I had always planned on adding spam protection features (options for requiring approval, captchas, follower minimums, etc.), but the need never came up. I think there are 2 reasons for that. First, a lot of spambots are automated, and the process of Twitter OAuth authentication for a user adding themselves to a list via CrowdListr cannot be done by a bot. Second, I don’t display any central directories of ‘open’ twitter lists that would make such an effort worthwhile — all promotion is done by list owners, so even if a spammer were looking to exploit it, it would be too diffuse to be worthwhile. There is, of course, a bit of spam protection built-in to Twitter: if you block an account, they’re not only removed from any list you own, but they cannot re-add themselves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there seems to be a positive correlation between people adding themselves to a list and then also subscribing to it. Again is that an experience that has been shared by other users?

As far as people adding themselves to lists and then following them, yes, that has in fact been the case. From casual observation, I’d say about half of people who add themselves to a list proceed to follow it. This is, by the way, totally unprompted; the site doesn’t give any prompt for people to follow the list. (It would, however, be trivial to make this a quick-one-click follow for them after they’ve added themselves to the list; I may in fact add this feature.)
Crowdlistr’s usage has been picked up by exactly the types of groups I built it for: communities looking for easy ways to self-organize on twitter. I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic of the ability of hashtags to create lasting community amongst a group on twitter; they’re occasionally great for transient events, but there’s often so much noise around which hashtag people use. If you were tweeting at Monkey Conference 2011, regardless of how prominently the organizers display the ‘official hashtag’, tweets will be diffuse amongst #monkeyconf, #monkeyconf11, #monkeyconf2011, #monkey2011, #monkey11, #mc11, #mc2011, etc. People should be able to opt into joining a community’s conversation, and that be the end of their effort; obviously, the attendees of #monkeyconf are going to keep tweeting about monkeys even after the conference ends; why not create a way for people to easily keep tabs on that conversation?
That’s an interesting point to end on. The relative merits of hashtags and lists in terms of sustaining a community on Twitter. If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to share in a comment.

For me, this spam-free dabble with Crowdlistr, and the conversation with Yahel has once again demonstrated the ability of social channels to restore your faith in human nature.

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