Category Archives: Internet

Like a Phoenix, will rise…


Our old friend Robbie Stamp, erstwhile friend and business partner of Douglas Adams, has just completed a buy-back of from the BBC after it spent the best part of a decade in its care.

Robbie was part of the team that got the original platform off the ground with Douglas Adams’ ‘The Digital Village’ company back in the late 90s/early 2000s, but the dot com bust forced a certain rethink of their strategy and the site was sold to the Beeb, who looked after it until budget cuts last year forced them to cull it (along with a number of other sites). [Aside – my first UK-based ‘work’ experience was at TDV, a day spent beta testing Starship Titanic)

The community, alongside Robbie, has staged a buy-back and are working on moving the site back into its own space.

I’ve never been a massive user of but I love the concept – a kind of friendlier, less formal wikipedia -style community proving wisdom and insight on all things – and look forward to what Robbie and his team do to develop it beyond what the Beeb did with it. Robbie tells me that he’s getting vast amounts of volunteer support from the community to make it great, and I love that as well. I suspect Douglas Adams would have too.

It is interesting, given the Guide app I wrote about recently, to note that the rights issue around the ‘Earth Edition’ of the Hitchhiker’s Guide is far from clear cut, and H2G2 retain the rights to produce that. So what these iPad/iPhone app gaming people are doing may raise an eyebrow with the relevant copyright people when it comes out.

I hope to learn and write more about this venture, which I find fascinating, in due course – I only had a few minutes to chat with Robbie the other night and will hopefully catch up with him for insights soon.

Dealing with negative commenters

One of the consequences of the BBC’s redirecting a large swathe of the discussion around its television shows to bloggers writing about them is that instead of the BBC having to manage the comments and discussion around the shows, people like me do. Unlike the BBC, I don’t have a massively evolved comments policy – before I wrote about Outcasts, I’d had a total of 500 comments on my blog in 8 years, most of them from me, replying to the occasional comment from someone random.

Then my blog posts about Outcasts and its cancellation and the Apprentice came and I tripled the number of comments on my blog in a few months. And it wasn’t a problem, as for the most part people were quite  nice – venting mutually in their upset over the Outcasts cancellation or offering an opinion on Lord Sugar’s judgments, mostly ignoring what I’d written, often tacitly thinking or hoping the BBC would read their comment here (no evidence of this as yet) or whatever. Again, no issues.

But now I’ve written about Torchwood, a show that’s upset some people because of a number of (not particularly graphic) scenes of gay sex, arguably slow pacing and a distinct lack of a single dramatic monster-shaped climax each week (I’ll write a defense of the show soon, because I think its better than people are giving it credit for, but want to see it play out first).

But the comments situation has me scratching my head… a significant number of the comments are prefaced with "I’m not a homophobe, but…," a few are straight out "gay sex is wrong my kids can’t watch that" (despite Torchwood being a post-watershed adult-targeted programme). Do I let these comments through? Do I bin them? After all, even if some of these people are narrow-minded (IMHO) conservatives, they have a right to an opinion, don’t they? Then part of me thinks "this is my site, and I can control it all however I like. Bwahahahaha…"

Truth be told, I don’t have enough time to moderate these comments carefully enough, and the nuances of what constitutes hate speech are probably beyond the spare minute or two I have to go back through the comments and delete stuff. But for those uncertain, I’d like Currybet’s rule for news website commenting to apply here. The golden rule: “don’t be a dick.” This is a nice place, for nice people to have reasoned discussion. Follow Mr Bet’s helpful flowchart to check if you are being a dick, in case you’re not sure. A minority of you on the Torchwood posts? You’re definitely being dicks.

The heartening thing in all of this is that there are a number of stalwart defenders of the show and the choices its made calling people out for being narrow-minded et al. Hoorah for you, good people*. You’ve helped me maintain my faith in the Interwebs.

The ease of anonymity and the impersonal nature of website commenting still makes it too easy for people to Troll or vent in unpleasant ways they wouldn’t do in real life. I’m open to suggestions on how to make this harder on here… Facebook comments/true name policy only/non disposable identities only?

* I should flag: I am very happy for people to take any of my opinions and the show (or anything else I write about) to task; that’s why I enable comments. The world is made of differing opinions. But I don’t have time or the emotional energy to deal with people being dicks, so please abide by that rule if you can.

Evernote sync issues

Evernote CEO The brain to become the second userArgh! I’ve begun to notice a fatal shortfall in Evernote’s capabilities. When used offline, it’s fine. When used online, it’s fine. When used in that grey area of theoretical connectivity or fuzzy mobile reception, it often blanks the notes you’ve written as you’re making amends, making it very, very easy to upload a ‘blank’ note over your other work. And the only way to retrieve other versions of notes you’ve synced is to cough up the $5 a month Evernote asks for the premium version (for which I have no other use).

Damnit, Evernote. You were so close to perfect.

Gmail Chrome web app first thoughts (Sparrow for Windows pt 2)

offline gmailI’m trying out, on Damian’s recommendation, the new Chrome app for Offline Gmail. It looks a lot like the iPad mail app and that should be a good thing… but with a keyboard, and no keyboard shortcuts I can discern, I find it vaguely annoying!

The truth is, when I’m on the move, I tend to use my Macbook (which has the superb Sparrow Gmail app on it), and when I’m on a PC I have pretty decent broadband access. So the offline capability isn’t sufficient to capture my attention alone. Here’s to v2.

Charlie Stross on ‘true naming’ – and Google+

I hadn’t really considered the full implications of Google+’s “true naming” policy, but Charlie has the issues mapped out perfectly here.

To start with, as Patrick McKenzie pointed out in his blog last year (before all this blew up), programmers almost always get name handling wrong because there is no universal format for a human name.

Charlie goes on to point out a whole bunch of other reasons why this is a problem for Google and it’ll be interesting to see how they resolve it. The anti-cultural bias of the ‘True Name’ policy is very unlike Google, despite the (admirable?) goal of keeping the social network honest. But as Charlie points out:

Google are wrong about the root cause of online trolling and other forms of sociopathic behaviour. It’s nothing to do with anonymity. Rather, it’s to do with the evanescence of online identity. People who have long term online identities (regardless of whether they’re pseudonymous or not) tend to protect their reputations. Trolls, in contrast, use throw-away identities because it’s not a real identity to them: it’s a sock puppet they wave in the face of their victim to torment them.

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out… although of course, I’m still not quite using Google+ yet. It needs events, and more people I actually know, as opposed to randoms with no profile adding me, possibly expecting reciprocity.

As an aside, I’m still reading Charlie’s Rule 34 – took a break from novels to catch up on some DCU comics – and it continues to be awesome. Charlie’s mentioned a few AR overlays, a lot of tablets, a few 3D ‘fabbers’,  but no social networks yet – maybe, in the near future, we all forget our logins…

Legality of online tablature sites

We all want something beautifulWas having a conversation with @patrickyiu about the legality of guitar tab – after all, it straight out makes use of someone else’s copyrighted material, most of the time, even if it is someone’s interpretation of it… For the uninitiated, guitar tab is musical notation for dummies for guitars (probably for most stringed instruments, but most commonly available for guitar, bass and… drums online) – a series of dashes and numbers indicate which string you need to depress and which fret of the guitar  you need. All that’s needed is a knowledge of the song and you can use this system to learn entire songs.

I remember in the early days of the net, finding great pleasure in discovering the Online Guitar Archive – OLGA – which saved me a fortune in music books and eliminated the need for me to learn how to transpose musical notation – which I’d learned from piano lessons – to the guitar.

OLGA, however, was shut down following disputes with the record labels. In the past decade, however, other forces have arisen, including the Ultimate-Guitar site, creator of that iPhone App I mentioned the other day. Curious about how this could possibly be legal, I delved through the bowels of the Internet, finally arriving at Wikipedia (Ok, it might have bent he first place I went) – where I read about the rise of legal tablature sites.

Turns out they share ad (and presumably app) revenue with the labels, which is rather clever. Here’s to new business models on the Internet and me finally learning how to play a few songs in their entirety…

Random adds on Google+

I’m not really sure what’s going on with Google+ at the moment. Whilst I like the interface, my inability to simply syndicate posts to it (via Tweetdeck or anything else), the limited number of "Real Life Friends" on it and the growing number of randoms adding me on there (at the present rate I’ll have more followers on my largely ignored Google+ account than I do on my reasonably active Twitter account in a few months) makes it all a bit confusing.

New features keep launching though, so we’ll have to see.

I can’t help but think that this is where the closed nature of Facebook is quite nice – the option to ‘decline’ friend requests gives you a nice kind of control over who you share with. I suspect Google will have to give you an option to view the posts from a selection of circles so you can selectively ignore posts from circles like "Internet Randoms," and/or we’ll end up creating ‘supercircles’ for one click sharing – i.e. I want to share with everyone except the Internet Randoms.

And to the Internet Randoms that are following me (and everyone else) – stick a decent bio / about page in. If I have no way of knowing who you are and you have thousands of people in your circles, I will block you. Sad but true… I just don’t have the time to be interested in people’s thoughts when I have no way of establishing who they are.

Chuck Norris is the Internet – AI

cleverbotI’m always curious about attempts to challenge the Turing Test, in which machines convince humans they’re human through intelligent interaction. I remember using an ancient text-to-speech programme that attempted this – Dr Sbaitso – extremely badly in the early 90s.

I’d love a world in which there were useful simulacra of humans able to support humanity in its day-to-day dealings (Skynet, natch), but have never yet come across a useful implementation of this technology.

Of of my many blog subscriptions pointed me to, an “AI” simulator whose intelligence is predicated on human knowledge available on the Internet. The bot warns you that its insights are based on what people say and think around the Internet and therefore might potentially be offensive.

It took me three questions to get to a Chuck Norris reference. I reckon five questions in I’d be onto Nyan cats and Dogforts.

To the creators of Cleverbot: if you were going to pick a compendium of human knowledge, as wonderful as the Internet is, you might need to sling in some algorithms that limit the frequency with which people mention Chuck Norris, pirates and ninjas, hipster (and other) kitties, things-made-of-bacon-that-normally-aren’t, and a thousand other memetic ideas. Despite the fact that people talk about these things at extreme length with surprising regularity online, they don’t in real life and therefore Mr Turing and his test will remain undefeated.

Unless, of course, that’s the whole idea. Imitate and Internet Savant and people won’t know the difference. It could be inspired!

Google nonplussed

googleplusIt looks good and has some very slick features, but until it opens to the general public and we get a sense if anyone cares, it’s really difficult to tell if Google’s new social network, Google+, is going to be a useful digital platform for me. Right now, it feels a little Google Wave did – slick, pretty, but ultimately without use, and giving me one too many social networks to manage.

That said, the fundamentals are really solid – working around circles of contacts so that privacy controls should be easier to maintain (not that I’ve found those yet).

More to follow, inevitable. Thanks @qwghlm for the invite.

New online retail experiences


Against a backdrop of failing high street retailers, the growth agenda, and lots of clients involved in every aspect of the shopping supply chain, I’ve been thinking a little about how brands are making the transition to a more compelling online experience. After all, people still need stuff, so how are retailers drawing us in?

One of my agency’s clients has been doing some funky stuff to socialise its online shopping experience. NET-A-PORTER (admittedly not somewhere I shop) has launched NET-A-PORTER Live – a live, interactive Google Maps mash up showing what people are buying from the NAP store and allowing you to click through, share or buy things as they appear. It’s pretty cool, although I’d guess that it’s too early to tell if its working as a source for shopping inspiration and up-sell opportunities. NAP continues to invest in dev staff to create and evolve these experiences, which is one of the reasons they’re working with us to tell this story.

I also read/watched with interest as Pizza Express launched a partnership with PayPal to do online payments for in store eating using an iPhone. Now this looks slick-ish, but there are a few obvious questions; is paying by credit card really that fiddly (I think not), and does it really add anything to the experience that consumers really need? If NFC was involved, or QR codes automated part of the process I might think it was a better idea but as it stands, it feels like an expensive novelty.

On the other hand, Addison Lee expects to make 20m in iPhone cab bookings this year. Now that’s an app that fundamentally shifts the experience for the better, and so I’m totally unsurprised

Noticed anything else cool around?