Tag Archives: Tokyo

Ideas Are Things

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One guy I’m always inspired by is Jan Chipchase, who does more for Nokia’s credibility than any of their products. Here he observes how small things are more likely to spread more rapidly than big ones, making them closer relations to ideas than to things:

Today we’re comfortable with the rapid dissemination of information and ideas from one side of the globe to the other. What’s in Tokyo today can be in Tehran tomorrow and vice versa.

When physical things reach a certain size – being pocketable seems about right, their ability to be picked up and moved around increases considerably. All things being equal small objects much like ideas, travel further, travel faster. They are put into bags, pockets and inevitably are introduced to people in far off lands. And if those people in far off lands like and value them enough, the container ships follow.

Great idea, and reminds me of Negroponte’s bits and atoms shtick (sorry, meme.) Two points: Never underestimate the power of small things. People are much more likely to buy them than big ones, for the simple reason that they’re less expensive. Retailers from Body Shop to IKEA understand this, and make sure there’s lots of small things to buy in their shops so people feel they are part of the experience, even if they can’t actually afford the lifestyle itself. And of course, these little products, and the branded bags they come in, walk out of the shop and around with the customer (in places like Indonesia, the bags are recycled as prestige items in themselves.)

Second point: Jan sees all this stuff because he travels. He is the modern equivalent of the foreign correspondent; because now traditional media can’t afford them, it’s people like him whose trained and observant eye (and great camera work) captures the stuff the rest of us don’t see, either because we’re not there or because we’re not looking properly.

Jan Chipchase – Future Perfect: Further, Faster

Asia’s Obsession With Lists

Last week the WSJ asked me to dig around for sites in Asia-Pacific that are building on the new Obsession with List making, as reported by Katherine Rosman. Here is the result (subscription only), and are some of the sites I came up with. I’d love to hear more from readers, as I’m sure I’ve missed lots.

  • China’s answer to 43thingsAimi — looks a lot like it, right down to the colors and design. Compare 43things
     
    with Aimi:
  • Japan has been more creative, with some pretty cool looking sites including Ultra Simple Reminder, check*pad and ReminderMailer.
  • Australia’s reminder service Remember the Milk is Big in Japan — 15,000 active Japanese users have signed up since its launch in July. Omar Kilani, the guy behind it, tells me “the service is also available in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese and we have a soon-to-be launched Korean version as well.” I’ll keep you posted on that.
  •  Jon Anthony Yongfook Cockle, a 26-year-old Briton based in Tokyo, has developed a very cool, simple reminder page called OrchestrateHQ, where users can enter quick reminders in either English or Japanese. He’s also about to launch a suite of simple Web-based applications called Jonkenpon (nothing up there at the time of writing).
  • Lastly, from the guys at Alien Camel, a new service called Monkey On Your Back which allows users to make a to-do list for things that they want other people to do:
     
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Morph: Where You Sit

I’ve been invited to join a bunch of interesting folk blogging at the Media Center Conversation, “a global, cross-sector exploration of issues, trends, ideas and actions to build a better-informed society. It’s a collaborative project that rips, mixes and mashes people from radically different spheres of activity and thought to share and learn from each other.” The idea is to “explore how society informs itself, tells its story and creates the narrative from which we extract context and meaning about our world, our neighbors and ourselves. From this exploration we seek to connect people and opportunities, to incubate ideas – and to stimulate projects and action.”

Here’s an excerpt form my first contribution: Where You Sit:

Where you are influences what you write.

I write a technology column for the online and Asian editions of The Wall Street Journal, based in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Even my boss sometimes asks me why I don’t move to some geeky centre like Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul or Taipei.

Last time he was in town I was trying to explain to him — the diversity, the perspective it lends to geeky gadgetry fiddling with my Treo as a prematurely old woman drags a truck-sized cart of grass past my taxi window, the wow! factor when technology really does work in the real world — when a terrorist bomb went off outside an embassy less than a mile away. That stopped our conversation before I had really gotten into gear. Nothing like a bomb blast to break the mood.

Yes, I know it’s awful to quote oneself, but I just wanted to show you I’m staying busy. And actually there are some interesting folk posting to the blog, so you can ignore my stuff and read theirs if you prefer.

On News Visualization, Part II

This week’s Loose Wire column in WSJ is about visualizing news. Researching the column I had a chance to interview Craig Mod, the guy behind the excellent Buzztracker. Here’s an edited transcript of our chat:

Craig Mod: We have over 550,000 articles in the DB now, spanning back to Jan 1st 2004. “Buzztracker” went from 750 hits on google the day before the launch to now … 39,000+ which was suprising
Jeremy: when was the launch?
Craig Mod: About 3 weeks ago
Craig Mod: got slashdotted within 12 hours
Jeremy: could you walk me thro how you think people might use it, or derive benefit from it?
Craig Mod: sure. the project started about 2 years ago as a pure art project .. some of the original output was just the dots, with no map .. but the closer you looked, suddenly land masses began to emerge and you started forming associations
Craig Mod: I’ve obviously tried to make it a lot more pragmatic and functional now
Craig Mod: fundamentally it’s supposed to get people thinking about why these connections exist — why is Shanghai and Canada connected (during the SARS outbreaks)?
Craig Mod: How did the virus spread?
Craig Mod: What sorts of checks can you preform to prevent that sort of spreading?
Craig Mod: Is it possible?
Craig Mod: etc etc
Craig Mod: and from there begin to explore how these events are being covered
Jeremy: interesting.. is there a page for the SARS stuff in the archive?
Craig Mod: clicking on the locations obviously gives you a list of the articles they appear in
Craig Mod: unfortunately the SARS stuff happened when I was building the beta 2 years ago .. so it’s not in the current DB
Craig Mod: but the recent demonstrations in China have popped up a lot
Craig Mod: there’s a China-Tokyo-Jakarta triangle that appeared during the summits
Craig Mod: and you can click the “tomorrow / yesterday” buttons and see just how long these stories linger in the collective media conscience
Craig Mod: which is kind of fun

Jeremy: is there a danger the external links die off?
Craig Mod: There is .. and we orignally had links to our internal cache but .. obvious copyright infringements issues scared us away from keeping the feature on new articles
Craig Mod: although, we still have all the data, of course
Jeremy: yes, the copyright thing is tricky…
Jeremy: how do you plan to deal with that?
Craig Mod: By not publicly offering the articles
Jeremy: right.
Craig Mod: And by keeping advertising off the site .. keeping it as pure an art project / public service project as possible

Jeremy: tell me a bit about you.
Craig Mod: I’m 24
Craig Mod: Born in Hartford, CT
Craig Mod: graduated from UPenn 2 years ago — degree in Digital Media Design (BSE in Comp. Sci with a very strong Fine arts component)
Craig Mod: Came to Tokyo 4 years ago for a year abroad, came back 1 1/2 years ago to run the Tokyo component of a small publishing company I helped start
Craig Mod: So a total of 2 1/2 years in Tokyo
Craig Mod: 2 years of which was spent at Waseda University in the intensive language program
Jeremy: how’s your japanese now?
Craig Mod: Extremely functional but I still can’t “relax” with a novel (although I just finished Murakami Ryu’s Almost Transparent Blue in Japanese)

Jeremy: so what are your plans for buzz?
Craig Mod: Right now I’m working on re-writing the drawing routines in a more power language .. the plan is to produce super-high-resolution prints for gallery display
Craig Mod: but being the only guy working on this + running sales / pr for CMP in Tokyo means it unfortunately takes a while to rewrite components
Jeremy: when you say hi-res prints, you mean of the maps?
Craig Mod: Correct
Craig Mod: There is a lot of information being lost in the low resolution of comp. screens
Craig Mod: especially Buzztracker connections (the thin, light lines get lost)

Jeremy: with thinking gap donned, where do you see this kind of thing going? do you think as people turn more and more to the net for news, these kind of visual displays will catch on?
Craig Mod: I don’t think traditional news delivery will be subverted anytime soon, but I do think that as digitized nformation increases (digital photographs, journals, etc) people are going to need clean, effecient methods to engage with the data / find what they want
Craig Mod: Something like buzztracker is an attempt to both clean up the delivery of a tremendous amount of information while also brining to the surface patterns otherwise invisible — missing the forest for the trees, etc.
Craig Mod: but what I’m hoping … what I had in mind as I was designing and building the information structure of buzztracker was that things need to be as clear and simple as possible
Craig Mod: this isn’t meant to provide an incredibly exhaustive set of news mining features — it’s meant to be highly accessible by anyone
Craig Mod: I haven’t seen any of the other newsmap interfaces but perhaps unlike Marcos’ work or, hopefully, mine, their information architecture wasn’t as transparent
Jeremy: transparent meaning?
Craig Mod: meaning, they innundated the user with superfluous interface elements, cluttered typography, illogical hierarchies .. I don’t want anyone using buzztracker to be concerned with how they engage the software/site .. the focus should, I hope, be engaging the data, the news
Craig Mod: (although I don’t know if they did that since I never saw any of them 🙂 )

Craig Mod: on the tech side of things, there was a point where I was debating between flash and pure html .. in the end, I think going with html made sense for those exact reasons — quick loading, standards based, etc
Craig Mod: There’s also, I suppose (to a small degree) a sense of bias being eliminated in these sorts of ways of navigating the news ..
Jeremy: very true.
Craig Mod: But almost unavoidable .. but those biases are also interesting ..
Craig Mod: buzztracker being completely rooted in anglophone news sources
Craig Mod: you start to see things like .. Africa doesn’t exist in the mind of enlgish speaking sources .. most all news takes place on a thin line just above the center of the map

Craig Mod: Animations are also comming .. along side the high-res output ..
Jeremy: how would the animations work? evolution of a story over a period of time?
Craig Mod: you could follow certain keywords — allowing you to follow certain stories .. You could also map the news on an hourly basis — interpolating the rise and fall of events smoothly ..
Craig Mod: the thing with the animations is that, I believe, by watching repeated time lapses you’ll start to see “news rhythms” erupt ..
Craig Mod: which begs the questions — if you map these animations to sound, can you decern other patterns that you were missing visually?

Jeremy: what about some of the criticisms that you’re leaning towards datelines, and so stuff like the tsunami wasn’t represented properly?
Craig Mod: There are some events (like the tsunami) which appear after the day they happened .. one of the best and worst parts of Buzztracker is that it’s fully automated so if something doesn’t appear when it “should” that’s representative of the media in some ways
Craig Mod: The spain explosions last year are incredibly represented
Craig Mod: I think some — such as false results, or skewed distrobution in the wrong ways — could be corrected by simple human intervention .. Looking for, spotting these “errors” in calculation, and adding rules to fix them
Craig Mod: but at the same time, that takes away from a bit of the purity of the automation of Buzztracker .. it’s always about balance I suppose

Thanks, Craig.

Sparking The Wi-Fi Revolution

Glancing at the charts on JiWire’s newlook website of the top 10 Wi-Fi countries and cities, I wondered whether it was worth taking a closer look at the figures to see if there’s any conclusions we could draw about the wireless revolution.

The figures only include those commercially available hotspots, as far as I can figure out. But they’re still interesting. In sheer numbers London Wifi london is way ahead with more than 1,200 hotspots, followed by Tokyo (904) Wifi tokyo and New York (851) Wifi ny. But all these cities are different sizes. How about hotspots per capita? Taking populations of the metropolitan areas of these cities things look a bit different.

If the figures are correct, then Paris has by far the most hotspots Wifi paris with about 35 per 100,000 people, followed by London Wifi london 2 with about 17 and Singapore Wifi singapore with just under 16. Of U.S. cities, Chicago Wifi chicago comes out ahead of New York Wifi ny 2 and San Francisco Wifi sf.

Aware that by looking at metropolitan areas only these results may be distorted a little, I looked at JiWire’s country figures. The U.S. is way ahead in terms of numbers Wifi us with more than 24,000 hotspots. The UK has less than half that Wifi uk with Japan the only Asian country putting in an appearance Wifi japan in the top 10. But what about when the ‘Hotspot Per 100,000 People’ rule is applied?

Once again things look different. Switzerland, with only 1,300 hotspots, has more than 17 per 100,000 people Wifi swiss which is about the same level of access Londoners have. Indeed, the whole of the UK appears to be pretty well provided for: With nearly 10,000 hotspots, there are more or less the same number of hotspots per 100,000 throughout the country as there are in the capital Wifi uk 2. Elsewhere the picture is less impressive: The U.S. falls into third place Wifi us 2 with exactly half the ratio of hotspots in the UK with Germany Wifi germany France Wifi france and Australia Wifi australia trailing behind. Japan, with less than two hotspots per 100,000 people Wifi japan 2 is clearly not worth traveling around with a Wifi laptop as aren’t Italy Wifi italy and Spain Wifi spain.

And finally, without wanting to be biased, the ‘country’ chart doesn’t include Hong Kong and Singapore, both of them separate adminstrative entities that happen also to be cities. Given that, they both put in a good performance in the ‘country’ chart too, with Singapore Wifi singapore 2 coming only slightly behind Switzerland and UK and Hong Kong Wifi hong kong 2 roughly on a par with Germany.

Conclusion? Looking for a Wifi-friendly place to live outside the U.S.? Try the UK or Switzerland in Europe, and Singapore in Asia.

The Tag Report I: A Chat With Gen Kanai

In today’s column (subscription required) for WSJ.com and The Asian Wall Street Journal‘s Personal Journal section I write about tags — the kind found on del.icio.us and Flickr. I spoke — or at least IMed — with some interesting people to research the story, and thought I’d post excerpts from some of the chats, with the permission of the source, in case anyone is interested in reading more.

Here’s the first one, from Japanese American Tokyo resident Gen Kanai who was very good at walking me through some of the ideas about tagging. He declined to let me identify his own current involvement, but it sounds interesting indeed. Hopefully we can talk more about that later.

JW: i was playing around with delicious and started reading stuff, including your posts on it, and was trying to see where it’s all going…
Gen Kanai: Its definitely been the hot topic of the past few weeks.
JW: from what i’ve read this is all about metadata, and making it so it’s not just personal categories, but sharing… is that anywhere near?
Gen Kanai: yes, the key is the sharing aspect.
Gen Kanai: as we all know, people are lazy,
Gen Kanai: so a little bit of investment up-front in tagging (photos, a url, etc.) means you can find a lot more related information afterwards
JW: ok…
Gen Kanai: especially when web services start sharing that data
JW: what’s in it for web services to share this stuff?
Gen Kanai: good question
Gen Kanai: More readership, a greater audience
JW: could you give an example?
Gen Kanai: sure.
Gen Kanai: if delicious was merely a bookmark saving service, it wouldnt be interesting.
Gen Kanai: delicious is compelling because the users save the bookmark but also associate metadata in the form of tags with each URL.
Gen Kanai: that “tag” is then automatically associated with other “tags” and so one can find other URLs related to “ferrari”
JW: how would that work exactly? if someone gave a tag ‘car’ and another ‘roadhog’ would they be matched? or lost?
Gen Kanai: or whatever keyword or phrase.
Gen Kanai: The other important part
Gen Kanai: is that both Flickr and Delicious have APIs for sharing.
Gen Kanai: Application programming interfaces.
Gen Kanai: a simple way for the data (Photos or URLs) to be shared on other websites.
Gen Kanai: Amazon also has an API for their system
JW: for sharing book lists etc?
Gen Kanai: its one important way Amazon is more successful than other Ecommerce sites
Gen Kanai: yes.
Gen Kanai: on sites OTHER than amazon.
Gen Kanai: but getting back to tags
JW: ok, i’m with you. still not sure how the tags work if they are just keywords assigned by individuals. how do they get matched up?
Gen Kanai: its all very serendipitous and chaotic
Gen Kanai: at the same time.
Gen Kanai: librarians would have a fit.
JW: heh…
Gen Kanai: anyway, the other key is that “tags” are user generated.
Gen Kanai: it doesnt sound like a big deal, but it is.
Gen Kanai: because in the past, with XML, for instance
Gen Kanai: there was a need to make agreements across industries to standardize
Gen Kanai: and that’s all thrown out the window with tags
JW: ok…
Gen Kanai: basically its a way to find other similar information
Gen Kanai: the user does a bit more work tagging, but it results in a wealth of information once the tagged information is cataloged and associated with other data that has the same tag.
Gen Kanai: I would say, however, that this is all VERY new, and no one is really sure what this means in the long run.
Gen Kanai: Whether it will scale.
Gen Kanai: etc.
JW: ok. i’m still a bit clueless how the serendipitous tagging works: if my idea of tagging and yours don’t gel, won’t that be duplicated effort?
Gen Kanai: that:s ok
Gen Kanai: it doesnt have to gel
Gen Kanai: it not a perfect system
Gen Kanai: but so far, when used, it works well enough that people are excited and more and more sites are implementing tags as a feature
Gen Kanai: the best sites have APIs so they can share that information with other sites…

Thanks, Gen, for walking me through it. I’ll post some more chats soon.

The Charting Of An Urban Myth? Or A Double Bluff?

Here’s a cautionary tale from Vmyths, the virus myths website, on how urban legends are born.

Vmyths says that Reuters News Agency filed a report from Singapore last week quoting anti-virus manufacturer Trend Micro (makers of PC-cillin) as saying computer virus attacks cost global businesses an estimated $55 billion in damages in 2003. That’s a lot of damage. Two spokesmen at Trend Micro have since called Vmyths to “correct” the report. One said it was “wrong.”  Another said Trend Micro “cannot gauge a damage value — because they simply don’t collect the required data”.

Vmyths says the report was later pulled, but without any explanation. I’m not so sure. I can still see it on Reuters’ own website, Forbes, Yahoo, The Hindustan Times, ZDNet, MSNBC, ComputerWorld, The New York Times, etc etc. And the story still sits in Reuters’ official database, Factiva (co-owned by Dow Jones, the company I work for.) I’ve sought word from Trend Micro (I wasn’t able to reach anyone in Taiwan, Singapore or Tokyo by phone and emails have gone unanswered for 10 hours; I guess Chinese New Year has already started. Perhaps the U.S. will be more responsive). Emails to the author of the Reuters report have gone unanswered so far.

As Vmyths points out, it’s great that Trend Micro has tried to set the record straight.  But if the story was wrong, why is it still out there on the web, and, in particular, on Reuters’ own sites? And why hasn’t Trend Micro put something up on its website pointing out the report is wrong? Has Trend Micro done everything it can to get things right? Was the report wrong, or the original data?

This episode highlights how, in the age of the Internet, an apparently erroneous story can spread so rapidly and extensively, from even such an authoritative source as Reuters, and how hard it is to correct errors once the Net gets hold of them. In the pre-WWW world (and speaking as a former Reuters journalist) it was relatively simple process to correct something: overwrite it from the proprietary Reuters screen with a corrected version, withdraw the story, or, in the case of subscribers taking a Reuters feed (newspapers, radio stations and what-have-you), sending a note correcting the story. Proprietary databases could be corrected. So long as the story wasn’t already in print, you were usually safe. Nowadays it’s not so easy.

Vmyths is right: Expect to see the $55 billion figure pop up all over the place. (Of course, until we know for sure, it’s possible that the real myth that comes out of this could be that the story was wrong, when in fact it was right.) Ow, I’m getting a headache.

Update: Microsoft Says It’s Not Fair

  Microsoft is pretty upset about a plan by Japan, China and South Korea to develop an alternative operating system to Microsoft’s Windows software, saying it would raise concerns over fair competition, Reuters reports. “We’d like to see the market decide who the winners are in the software industry,” Tom Robertson, Microsoft’s Tokyo-based director for government affairs in Asia, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “Governments should not be in the position to decide who the winners are,” Robertson said.
 
Um, sure.

Column: Ethel fights back

Loose Wire — Tea, Sympathy And Service

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 25 July 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
If you want good customer service on-line, try impersonating a little old lady. It worked for me.

Frustrated by the poor response to my own e-mail enquiries to big companies — I’m not naming names here, except to say I’m still waiting for replies from the likes of 3Com, Fujitsu and Linksys — I figured things might work better if I metamorphosed into Ethel M. Girdle, a septuagenarian who claims to have typed her way through World War II while flying Spitfire fighter aircraft and is a dab hand at growing roses and laying on tea parties for the local pastor.

First stop for Ethel was fixing her Zanussi dishwasher. “Hello, young man (or lady),” she wrote to the customer-service centre in Britain. “My washer makes a noise like one of those newfangled leafblower things and my crockery doesn’t get clean. Can you send one of your nice young chaps round to fix it, I’m having the vicar for tea on Friday and if he sees the china in this state he’ll think I’ve gone over to the other side. Yours, Mrs. Girdle.” Zanussi responded with impressive speed and grasp of the gravity of the situation. “Dear Mrs. Girdle,” they wrote. “Sorry to hear of the problems that you are experiencing with your dishwasher, if you would kindly let me have your postcode I will be able to look up the details of your nearest service centre for you so that one of our engineers can come and repair your appliance so that your china gets nice and clean again.”

My own experience of airlines and the Internet has been woeful, so I was interested to see how my fictional friend got on. She wanted to visit her grandson and fired off e-mails to several airlines: “I’m coming to Hong Kong/Sydney/Tokyo/Singapore to see my grandson, who is doing a grand job running one of your banks. This is not the first time I’ve flown (I used to fly during the war, don’t you know) but it’s been a while. Is it OK to bring my cocker spaniel, Poppy? He won’t be any trouble, unless you’ve got rabbits on the aircraft! And may I bring my own teapot on board? I do like a cup of tea in the afternoon.”

Ethel’s still waiting to hear from Japan Airlines and Qantas, while British Airways’ Web site had no functioning e-mail address for ordinary folk. Singapore Airlines offered a form letter, Cathay Pacific was somewhat intimidating: “Please kindly note that domestic animals of any description are not permitted to be carried in the passenger cabin on any Cathay Pacific flights.” But Virgin Atlantic rose to the occasion well: “I can assure you that our crew will make sure you receive a nice cup of tea on the flight or more than one in fact! It would not be necessary to take a teapot with you. Unfortunately Virgin Atlantic do not have a licence to carry pets of any description, even though I am sure he is no trouble.”

Next, Ethel decided to buy a computer. “I need the following,” she e-mailed IBM: “A nice keyboard (if possible an electric one, the manual ones tire me out) and a nice screen to look at. Could I use my TV instead, and save a few dimes? It’s a big one, though black and white and takes forever to warm up. My grandson says I need a CD drive but I think I can just drag the stereo over and plug it into the computer, yes?”

IBM were very helpful. “Please note that all our NetVista (desktops) come with a standard keyboard. However, we are unsure of what you mean by “electric” vs. “manual”, they wrote, before gently pointing out that hooking up her black-and-white TV and CD player to the PC was a no-no.

Encouraged, Ethel went back for advice on the Internet: “Do I need some sort of passport, or special goggles, or something? My grandson says the connections are very fast these days, I don’t want to mess up my hair.” IBM was reassuring, saying a passport wouldn’t be necessary.

Overall, I was impressed. Customer service on-line has a long way to go — shame on those companies that didn’t reply — but at least there are some bright and helpful folk at the end of those e-mail addresses. And for those of you not getting customer satisfaction on-line, feel free to impersonate Ethel. I know I will.