Tag Archives: Digg

The Unsocial Web

A piece by Donna Bogatin on why many more people read web sites liked digg.com rather than contribute to it has in itself spawned enough responses to become something of a summary of why the social web, citizen journalism, user-created content etc may not be quite the revolution it appears. Here’s how I see the responses:

  • I just want to watch. The more stuff is out there, ironically enough the less incentive there is to contribute. There’s probably a graph for this somewhere. People will contribute if they think their contribution is worth it. That means a) other people like it, b) it doesn’t take up too much time c) the stuff isn’t there already, or likely to be and d) that contributing to a site comes after browsing a site. (see Not On My Own Time, Thanks, below.) The logical conclusion of this is that while contributions may rise exponentially, gradually the number of contributors dwindles until a hardcore of contributors remains (see The Weirdo Factor below).
  • The Weirdo Factor. We newspaper journos have known this for a while. The kind of people who contribute, or contribute most, don’t represent a good cross section of ordinary readers/users. Readers’ letters are always great to receive, and they may contain useful and interesting stuff, but they tend to come from the same people, or group or kind of people. And that means an editor would be a fool to treat his mailbag as a cross section of his readership. Same is basically true of the Net.
  • Not On My Own Time, Thanks. Digesting Time isn’t the same as Creating Time. Most people probably browse sites like YouTube.com and Flickr.com at work. This means that the more content there is on these sites at work, a) the less productive workers will be, and b) the less likely they’ll actually upload their stuff — since that will probably have to be done at home, in a separate session. If you’ve already spent a couple of hours on YouTube.com at work, why would you spend more time on it at home?
  • People Don’t Like Hanging Out With Weirdoes Taking the above a step further, many users are going to be discouraged by the general tenor of discussions at places like Digg. Flaming and generally being rude may seem like a life to some people, but most people don’t like it very much, and are not going to expose themselves to ridicule by posting to such sites. (They are also not going to want to expose themself to being ignored: what happens if you Digg something and nobody comes?)
  • Freedloading off a freeloader Then there’s the reality that the social web is largely a Commenting Web, not a Creating Web. Not all of it, of course: Flickr.com is a very creative place. But photos are always of things, requiring only that someone have a camera and be there, and take a good picture. Writing is different. Writing is not just about commenting on what other people are writing. (Well, OK, this post is.) Writing is also about reporting  – about actually going out and finding information, digesting it, writing it up and then distributing it. Blogs, the foundation of Web 2.0, were built on the idea of commentary. But commentary always has to follow content, since without it there can be nothing to comment on. We shouldn’t confuse sites like Digg.com as content sites, since they simply aggregate links and comment. In the end, this freeloading element will have to be added to by something more substantial for it to grow. Netscape’s new site understands this, although I’m not convinced making a couple of calls to add to a wire story constitutes news gathering (but then again, a lot of journalists have done that for years, so who am I to quibble?)

The bottom line may be, just may be, that after huge bursts of participatory interest, that may even last a few years, the kinds of people who keep Slashdot going are going to be the people who keep Digg.com and every other user-driven, Web 2.0 site going. I’m not saying this is a bad thing — I love Slashdot, and there are some extraordinarily intelligent people on there (as well as some who could spend some time in the open air) — but it’s not a group that’s, er, broadly representative of the citizenry at large. They’re hugely dedicated, very focused, very knowledgeable about their sphere and have opinions coming out of their ears. A bit like folk who wrote letters to newspapers, come to think of it.

Netscape Diggs In and Elbows Out the Competition

AOL/Netscape has launched a beta of its new homepage that looks uncannily like Digg, a hugely popular site for techies to publish stuff and have their stories sorted by popularity. Actually it not only looks like Digg, two of the top three stories are Digg’s. AOL’s been smart tho: visit the source page and you can only do so within a big black sidebar that keeps you wedged inside the Netscape site. (You can’t resize it, but you can turn it off, but obviously by default. Meaning it will open with every external link you click on. Oh, and it’s really slow to load.)

Perhaps by coincidence, or by the efforts of a few Diggers, those two Digg stories are less than complimentary about AOL: The first, AOL Copies Digg (“Check out what this is based on”) and the second  Trying to cancel AOL (“Here’s a recording I did of a conversation between myself and AOL while trying to cancel an account I no longer needed. It was old, and I hadn’t used it in a REALLY long time, I just never got around to cancelling it. Enjoy!”)

A piece by Reuters says that this new site has “editors, which Netscape calls anchors,” who “can choose to highlight what they consider important stories.” This might be the top portion of the page, but I assume the anchors are not highlighting the two stories mentioned above. Or maybe they are, in some wild new form of self-flagellating transparency?

I won’t get into the journalistic implications of all this here. But there’s a telling comment by Netscape.com’s new general manager, dot-com news entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, to the Reuters reporter: “We don’t have to do a level of journalism that you guys do,” he said, referring to traditional news organizations. “You guys take it 90 yards, we take it the next 10.”

The reporter didn’t pick up on this. But when sites like this basically suck content from other sites, from NYT to Digg to Reuters, to form the basis of their homepage, and then link to that content within a sidebar that squeezes the original website partly out of view and off the screen plaster, that 10 yards looks mighty cheap for the yardage you get. Whose content is it now? Who’s making money off whom? And who is the smartest person in the room?

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Light on the Water

Here’s a cool way from Equa System (via Digg) to know how hot the water coming out of your taps is (there must be an easier way to say that):

Faucet1

Here are some more links on related light-coded home gadgets: LED faucet light, a $15 device that makes your water appear bright blue, temperature sensitive faucets from Hansa (via Engadget), the Krystal Electronic Light Showerheads (also via Engadget), and the KWC Eve Faucet (“sensuous light play” in the kitchen).

A Directory of Visualizing Tools

Update Feb 2007: Just came across some cool stuff from digg labs (the guys behind digg) who haev some coold stuff I’ve added below.

In this week’s WSJ.com column I wrote (subscription only, I’m afraid) about treemaps, tools which allow you to look at data differently:

One of the things that bugs me about our oh-so-cool information revolution is this: We show such little imagination in how we actually look at that information. Think about it. We have all this fascinating data at our fingertips and yet we have decided the most effective way of viewing it is in…a table. Or a chart. Or a list of search results (“1.7 gazillion matches — click here for next 10 results”). There has to be a better way.

A treemap “is a bunch of squares, arranged to form a mosaic. The size and color of each block mean something”. It’s probably easier to show it than to explain it:

Treemap
(from RoomforMilk, see below)

The size of blocks indicate, in this case, the popularity of each subject, shades and color indicate how recent the topic has been updated. Click on one and more information appears. Best is to check them out: they’re intuitive and fun to use. Really.

Here’s some links (yes I know this should be in the form of a treemap, but I’m not that clever) from the column and some stuff I wasn’t able to put in for reasons of space (Yes, I am aware of the irony. Yell at my editor): 

  • stack a vertical bar chart of activity, with the stories themselves moving way too fast down the screen (from digg labs)
  • digg’s bigspy an impressive scrolling list of stories, size dictated by the number of diggs.
  • swarm another digg offering. not sure what this does, actually, but it looks cute.
  • Panopticon a leading supplier of professional Visual Business Intelligence to the financial services industry as well as other fields of business. Download their free Panopticon Explorer .NET Learning Edition which lets you view treemaps of files, processes, event logs and spreadsheets.
  • Marcus Weskamp’s excellent newsmap
  • Peet’s Coffee Selector good example of a treemap at work for consumers
  • RoomforMilk lovely looking treemap of Slashdot headlines, or as the website puts it — “RoomforMilk.com is a news feed pasteurizer and homogenizer featuring Slashdot News Headlines. RoomforMilk is not even 2% affiliated with Slashdot.org.” Colors and shades indicate new/old (fresh/stale) stories, blocks indicate keywords.
  • del.icio.us most popular treemap from codecubed very cool-looking map of the most popular links from social bookmarking tool del.ico.us, by derek gottfrid.
  • Microsoft Treemapper with Excel Add-In. Simple tool “to view hierarchical data conveniently from an Excel file.”
  • Wikipedia World Population in a treemap by The Hive Group, as a demonstration of their Honeycomb technology. Very absorbing. Check out their views of iTunes’ Top 100 and Amazon.
  • NewsIsFree also uses Honeycomb.
  • CNET News’ Hot page.
  • Great recent piece by Ben Shneiderman, inventor of the treemap. Didn’t get to talk to him but I hope to at some point.
  • Wikipedia entry on Treemapping.
  • Grokker search, a kind of treemap. (Thanks to a reader of the column for that.)
  • WSJ’s Map of the Market, from SmartMoney. Uses Java, but pretty cool.

And, some software to visualize your hard drive (Windows, unless stated)

  • FolderSizes strictly speaking not really a treemap, but a good way to visualize your drives via pie charts. “It can quickly isolate large, old, temporary, and duplicate files, or even show file distribution by type, attributes, or owner. All with multiple export formats, command-line support, shell context menu integration, and much more.” $40, free trial.
  • SizeExplorer Features include folder size, graphical charts, file distribution statistics and reports (by size, extension, type, owner, date, etc.), biggest files, network support, snapshots, file management, printing of file listing, compress into ZIP file, exports to Excel, html, xml and text files, etc. $16-45
  • DiskView another pie chart approach, but useful. DiskView integrates into your Windows Explorer, pretty well. New version also indicates how fragmented files are , and, if your hard disk supports it, its health
  • SpaceMonger my favorite space-hogger hunter. Does a great job of mapping your hard drives and showing you what is taking up space. New version out soon, I’m told.
  • DiskAnalyzer Similar to FolderSizes, though not as pretty. Free tho.
  • WinDirStat free program which will create a treemap of your drive(s), based on the KDirStat for the K Desktop Environment, an interface for UNIX.
  • DiskInventory X similar to WinDirStat/KDirStat, for Macs
  • SequoiaView similar to the above. Linked to the company MagnaView, which sells commercial versions of its treemapping software “take input from virtually any information system, file or database, and support the development of an impressive range of visualizations”. (thanks, Michael.)

You can also see a bunch of posts I’ve done on different kinds of newsmaps, including some interviews with folk like Marcus Weskamp and Craig Mod, creator of Buzztracker, here. I’m sure I’ve missed lots; please do let me know either by email or comments.

 
 

Cracking RFID With Your Phone

RFID tags and their security implications are returning to centre stage again. Adi Shamir, professor of computer science at the Weizmann Institute, has shown that it’s possible to crack passwords on RFID tags using a cellphone. In theory this could mean anyone with a cellphone could monitor traffic between a tag and a reader and collect the information being transmitted. As EE Times’ Rick Merritt writes (via Digg)

“I haven’t tested all RFID tags, but we did test the biggest brand and it is totally unprotected,” Shamir said. Using this approach, “a cellphone has all the ingredients you need to conduct an attack and compromise all the RFID tags in the vicinity,” he added.

Shamir said the pressure to get tags down to five cents each has forced designers to eliminate any security features, a shortcoming that needs to be addressed in next-generation products.

Quite a few of the comments on the Digg link are of the “why should we care?” variety:

I still dont understand what the big fuss is about RFID security. I mean who cares if someone knows that you just bought milk and eggs or that you are carrying around the latest Playboy. What could be tagged with RFID that people would so desperately need to keep private? I think that people are wrapped a little bit tightly around the issue.

This kind of response is infuriating, but predictable, and the reason why there’s still a huge gulf between the value we attach to our personal data and the value companies in the world of data collection attach to it. It is precisely the detail of our lives that is valuable to others; this detail — whether we bought milk, eggs or Playboy — comes together to form a very detailed profile of the consumer. The consumer is also a bank account holder, a patient, a credit card applicant, a driver, an employee. When all this information gathered on the individual is collated, it forms an alarmingly precise picture of their habits, their problems, their foibles — do you want a potential employer to know you read Playboy?, a life insurer to know you consume lots of fatty foods? — which might, just might, in the future prove the difference between a job, a loan, a credit card, a house.