Posts Tagged ‘web 2.0’

Don’t shoot the Blackberry Messenger

Thursday, February 9th, 2012
BBM does things no web social network can do… it mirrors the flexibility of real life

RIM’s fortunes have taken a catastrophic, Nokia-style nosedive in the past year – but it has a chance of pulling up. Admittedly, the odds are long, but this week the Canadian company began its fightback.

It’s certainly right up against it.

Fewer enterprise customers are dependent on RIM’s email servers. The trend to ‘bring your own’ device to work, one that works well enough with Exchange or IMAP, is accelerating.

There is now a range of consumer deals that offer large bundles of texts, so the BlackBerry no longer has the singular attraction for teenagers, and other chatty prepay customers, of incurring no incremental charges for messaging. That was an overlooked factor in the BlackBerry’s success. And qwerty keyboard devices just aren’t very fashionable any more – glitzy touch tablets appear to offer so much more. And because soft keyboards are considered to be “good enough”, that removes BlackBerry’s unique selling point, that it made the best physical keyboards you could find on a phone Some of this may change later this year – assuming RIM can finally ship some attractive devices with its QNX-based BlackBerry 10 OS.

But the reason I think it’ll return for one last bout is that RIM runs the only social network in the world that comes in hardware. And this social network has a flexibility than no web rival can match.

Don’t shoot the BlackBerry Messenger When I wrote, two years ago, that analysts, pundits and gadget fans overlooked this little thing called BBM at their peril, it was our most voted story ever. I thought then that BBM it was the best user interface ever put on a mobile communicator, something that made voice and messaging flow in a very natural way. Few agreed, but then very few had seen it in action – it was like trying to describe yodeling.

It’s probably fair to say BBM only really became noticed last August, and then for the wrong reasons, during the riots. This doesn’t say much for how well we mix, socially, or even geographically. But go to any major northern city and find me somebody under 21 who doesn’t use a BlackBerry. And almost all of these avid users are so devoted because of one application: BBM.

At some point, after the value of BBM became appreciated, the conventional wisdom developed that the value of RIM was almost entirely in BBM. RIM added a lot of developer options to the platform this week, including Qt, but none are as important as how well BBM can be ported over to the new platform.

Back to the future

BBM does things no web social network can do, but that online conferencing users were doing twenty years ago with systems such as the Cosy software on which Bix and Cix were based. On these systems you can create private ad hoc groups. Now trying doing that with Twitter or Facebook.

Twenty five years on from the zenith of BBS systems, we don’t have anything with the same flexibility. The imperative of the Web 2.0 companies is to make everything on their social networks public. It’s the only way they really know how to make money. The thought of users spending their time in private, closed groups horrifies them. But this isn’t a problem for RIM.

These informal, easily created and easily dissolved groups actually mirror real life much more closely than Twitter or Facebook can. RIM has also been extremely clever in how it has integrated music into its social network – again, geared towards promiscuous users whose tastes shift. You can grab anything from millions of songs, but freely cross-play 50 songs in your group. And BBM is proving far stickier than most web social networks. Once you’re in, you want to stay in. No rival can quite offer anything like it. There’s no doubt RIM knows what an asset it has. But is it wise to be the sole provider of the BBM social network to the market – or to license it judiciously to, say, Sony – or even Apple itself, in cutdown form? ®

The BBC struggles with the concept of ‘tech bubble’

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

The BBC has a real problem with social media. It’s delighted when something new appears. It slips into the patrician role that comes naturally to broadcasters – and especially the BBC. It can express childlike wonderment – Wow! – at something new and amazing. Getting beyond that though, is where the trouble starts.

Perhaps the BBC is haunted by the idea that people simply get on and use new communication tools without “Auntie’s” assistance. The viewers typically also have much more realistic expectations of the technology than, say, pundits. So we keep hearing wonderment, and advice on how get online, a bit like a slightly mad primary school teacher.

The gears really grind when something more critical is required. This week the corporation’s news flagship Newsnight – one of the last remaining TV programmes for grown-ups – asked if there was a “tech bubble”. Investment is pouring into social media startups. Would it all end in tears?

Yet having the posed the question, the report and discussion that followed were designed to dispel understanding and analysis. Before long it had turned into a gathering of the Unicorn Preservation Society. We were even told that only people who might want to describe the web investments a “bubble” were self-serving opportunists.

Bad people, in other words, thinking bad thoughts.
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The Autistic Network

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Andrew’s Mailbag Isn’t it time for a War on Stupid Generalisations? These usually need a Czar, and I’d gladly volunteer.

Novelist Zadie Smith has written about the movie The Social Network and wonders if Mark Zuckerberg’s apparent extreme autism doesn’t manifest itself in both the reductive view of humanity that Facebook (and Web 2.0) software demands. That’s fine. It’s when she steers into observations about autism – largely borrowed, because she’s not an original thinker – from Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget – that the trouble starts.
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Nathan Barleys to fill Olympic chasm – PM

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Prime Minister David Cameron has cast his gaze east across to Essex – and dreams of a landscape filled with social media marketing consultants and SEO boutiques as far as the eye can see.

In the aftermath of the Olympics, Cameron wants to put the land and property on the Lea Valley to private sector use, and his Big Idea is to “nudge” the Shoreditch and Hoxton crowd eastward.

“Our ambition is to bring together the creativity and energy of Shoreditch and the incredible possibilities of the Olympic park to help make east London one of the world’s great technology centres,” said Cameron today.

That would be a sight: a mass migration of tiny designer tricycles as the Nathan Barleys pedal across the Hackney Marshes to Essex.
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Greatest Living Briton gets £30m for ‘web science’

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

As an alliance of the desperate, this one takes some beating. The Greatest Living Briton (Sir Timothy Berners Lee) has been thrown £30m of taxpayers’ money for a new institute to research “web science”.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister waxed lyrical today about the semantic web – how “data” would replace files, with machine speaking unto machine in a cybernetic paradise.

It’s really a confluence of two groups of people with a shared interest in bureaucracy.

Computer Science is no longer about creating graduates who can solve engineering challenges, but about generating work for the academics themselves. The core expertise of a CompSci department today is writing funding applications. And the Holy Grail for these paper chasers is a blank cheque for work which can be conducted without scrutiny for years to come. With its endless committees defining standards (eg, “ontologies”, “folksonomies”) that no one will ever use, the “Semantic Web” fits the bill perfectly.

Of course, most web data is personal communication that happens to have been recorded. Most of the rest is spam, generated by robots, or cut-and-paste material ‘curated’ by the unemployed or poor graduates – another form of spam, really. The enterprise is doomed. But nobody’s told the political class.

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Panorama on the Digital Economy Bill

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010
BBC1′s flagship current affairs program was devoted to file sharing last night, and contained something to piss off a range of lobbyists.

Usually when this happens, BBC producers often conclude “they’re doing something right”, and pour themselves a large, congratulatory drink. They shouldn’t, because while the program succeeded in trying to be “fair”, it failed in its larger mission to present the issue properly – something we already understand.
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Google's doing to Twitterbook what it's doing to copyright

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Google has two prongs to its long-term strategy, but Wave, the “digital dashboard” it unveiled last week, casts light on a third.

One strategy is to drive down the value of copyright material on the internet to zero. Google has a ruthless and calculating view of the real value of stuff. It reasons that if all we do on the net is talk to each other, then it’s merely fulfilling the role of a switchboard operator at a Soviet-era state monopoly telco – connecting us, while listening in. That’s a pretty unglamorous business, it doesn’t save the world… and hey, where’s the money?

The YouTube experience has taught Google that the value of “user generated content”, of the “new era of creativity” is as close to zero as a rounding error – while quite irrationally we continue to throw money at DVDs, CD box sets of stuff we already have, Susan Boyle, and even ringtones. That’s all copyright stuff. They are clever people, and this hasn’t escaped their notice.

The other strategy is to drive down the value of the “access networks” to zero. Unable to offer innovative value-add services of their own, the ISPs and mobile networks become interchangeble suppliers, merely undifferentiated suppliers of bits. Hence the “Net Neutrality” scare. Google didn’t invent “net neutrality”, but it lost little time in taking advantage of it, to its own ends. No company in the 25-year history of the net had ever dared propose a technical rulebook for what the net’s operators could and couldn’t do – until Google started to write legislation.

In both cases the entertainment and network “industries” have been the timid architects of their own demise. The networks well may be becoming commoditised bit pipes without Google’s assistance, and the content businesses – by refusing to take elementary steps such as synchronising releases across markets, and monetising P2P file sharing – may too see the value of their assets disappear. But it doesn’t harm Google to speed things along a bit.

Take the two together and you’ll start to see why Google is building those vast power-guzzling data centers. With copyright holders and last-mile service providers unable to realise value, those data centres aggregate all that’s left. Google becomes the internet company by default.

…Read more at The Register

Web 2.0 and feedback loops: a conversation with James Harkin

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Weiner

Don’t judge a book by the title. Especially if the title is something like Cyburbia. James Harkin, who worked with Adam Curtis on The Trap, has produced the first proper full-length critique of Web 2.0 – tracing the daftness back to the cybernetics pioneers of the 1940s.

It’s odd that something with so much hype as Web 2.0 has received so little intelligent criticism. Half of Nick Carr’s The Big Switch, looked at the social and psychological implications, and he’s following up at length in The Shallows.

But Cyburbia takes a different approach. By looking at the mania for feedback in a historical context, Harkin finds a common thread in subjects as diverse as military strategy, TV shows like Lost, as well as the interwebs.

Q. We’re used to cyber-everything but can you define cybernetics for us?

Harkin: There are a lot of definitions but the simple idea I use is this idea that what distinguishes human beings, or what’ smost important about humans, is that they exist on a continuous information loop defined by a constant stream of messages we’re sending or receiving.

Now you can interpret the world in that way – me picking up a glass, say – but it is just a metaphor. The story of my book is how this metaphor, created by Norbert Wiener, because of its beauty, became the inspiration for a new medium and influencing how we live. It’s given rise to all this incredible technology, but the idea of fitting ourselves into that mould will mean we’re the losers.

The central image of the book is Cyburbia, this strange alternate world where we watch each other and the minutiae of each others’ lives.

You might have stared out of your window in suburbia in the 1950s and seen a few people across the street, but now you can stare at millions of other people. The danger is that when you spend all your time deciphering what other people are up to, you never get around to doing something original on your own, because you’re so swamped by opportunities to go onto other people’s lives on blogs, social networks and Twitter.
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Twitter's Jam Festival

Friday, February 13th, 2009


Writing about Twitter is the journalistic equivalent of eating the fluff from your navel. The posh papers love it. Menopausal middle-aged hacks love it. The BBC is obsessed with it. Instead of telling us something we didn’t know before, Twitter makes churnalism so easy, it practically automates the entire job.

The rest of the world, however, completely ignores it. But with the journalists’ attention fixed firmly on each others’ navels, they don’t seem to realise what a fringe activity Twitter is. Now we can quantify this a little.

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Google cranks up the Consensus Engine

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Image from Google's 2006 analyst presentation

Google this week admitted that its staff will pick and choose what appears in its search results. It’s a historic statement – and nobody has yet grasped its significance.

Not so very long ago, Google disclaimed responsibility for its search results by explaining that these were chosen by a computer algorithm. The disclaimer lives on at Google News, where we are assured that:

The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program.

A few years ago, Google’s apparently unimpeachable objectivity got some people very excited, and technology utopians began to herald Google as the conduit for a new form of democracy. Google was only too pleased to encourage this view. It explained that its algorithm “relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. ”

That Google was impartial was one of the articles of faith. For if Google was ever to be found to be applying subjective human judgment directly on the process, it would be akin to the voting machines being rigged.

For these soothsayers of the Hive Mind, the years ahead looked prosperous. As blog-aware marketing and media consultants, they saw a lucrative future in explaining the New Emergent World Order to the uninitiated. (That part has come true – Web 2.0 “gurus” now advise large media companies).

It wasn’t surprising, then, that when five years ago I described how a small, self-selected number of people could rig Google’s search results, the reaction from the people doing the rigging was violently antagonistic. Who lifted that rock? they cried.

But what was once Googlewashing by a select few now has Google’s active participation. This week Marissa Meyer explained that editorial judgments will play a key role in Google searches.

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