Friday, October 21, 2011

A new social network, chime.in, might eventually pay you for your activity .. initial look

Do we really need another online social network?  Between twitter, reddit, Facebook, linkedin, etc, aren't we all social-networked to the gills already?  A new entrant on the scene, Chime.in, has a familiar feeling to reddit, and apparently will offer members the opportunity to be paid for their activity.  That last bit got me interested enough to take a look and try out the features. (my page: http://chime.in/user/7genblogger)

The network appears to have just launched very recently, maybe just this week.  The logo is marked with a "Beta" symbol so presumably it is incomplete and they will add new features over time.  Given that there's a few features glaringly lacking I sincerely hope they'll address some things (like being able to block or report misuse or spammers) or else I'll ignore the thing completely.

Right now you sign up one of three ways:  a) twitter ID, b) Facebook ID, c) email address.  During the signup process even if you register using twitter or Facebook it will ask you for your email address.  Signup is painless.

The central activity is in sharing "things" on the network.

Share

You can just type in some words to share, or click one of the icons to share a link to an article, a picture, a video, or a poll.

Share2

Once you start sharing it changes to this.  Click on one of the gizmos at the right to share a specific kind of thing.  You're also required to enter some text along with the shared item ("Enter the text for your Chime here").  You can enter "up to 5 interests".  And you can optionally post the Chime to Facebook and/or twitter.

They use the word "Chime" to describe the things you share on Chime.in.

The "interest" list is essentially the same as keywords or tags used on other places like del.icio.us.  It is an important way for your Chimes to be found by other people.  The site lets you browse for chimes by the interest's they're tagged with.

There's a major problem with the auto-sharing to twitter (I haven't checked if the same bad behavior exists with auto-sharing to Facebook).

Autotweets

The first of those tweets was auto-shared by Feedburner from the RSS feed on one of my blogs.  Note that the link is an active live link that you can click on.  The following two tweets were auto-shared by Chime.in based on Chimes I posted (http://chime.in/user/7genblogger/chime/64618540834230272 and http://chime.in/user/7genblogger/chime/64617387889233920).  The link in the tweet is not a live link that you can click on, it's just text, and worst it's using bit.ly (without giving me the option to hook into my own bit.ly account).  First, the "chime.in" domain is short enough to be a suitable short-link, so why don't they incorporate their own shortlink service?  Second, it's bad wrong awful silly ridiculous stupid for this to not be a live link.  The fault is probably the "…" just before the link.

On your dashboard page (http://chime.in/users/home), on the left-hand side, you see a list of interests.  You can "browse" the interests in their tree of pre-selected interests.  You can add your own interests.  At the top of the page is a search box, and you can search for interests, people and chimes through that one search box.  Once you find an interesting interest, there is a "subscribe" button at the top of the interest page and clicking on the "subscribe" button adds it to your interest list.

Peppers

There are also Groups, which they call "Communities".  Communities have a founder, who designs the Community giving it a purpose, a set of interests, and a background image.  You can join a community page, and the community page shows a list of the members.

As the community founder you define the "Interests" of the community.  This automagically pulls Chimes into the community based on the interests you define.  For example I've set up a community (http://chime.in/community/GreenTransportation) with the interests: electric car, electric motorcycle, electric bicycle, electric bike, hybrid cars, EV, Tesla, Alternative Fuel Vehicles.  The community home page is being automatically filled with any Chimes that fit one of those interests.

This means community founders don't have to fill their community with content (lest it look like a ghost town), they simply have to define the appropriate interests.

Now let's look at individual chimes ...

Chime

This one was shared by "chime_editors", denoted by the little arrow.  At the top of the chime you see a thumbs-up icon (to like it), an arrow (to share the chime), a little squared splodge that's a "bookmark" icon (to "save" it), and an "X" icon to hide the chime.

You'll notice there is not a thumbs down icon.  Nor is there one to report it for being spam or misuse.

You'll notice there is an area to enter comments and you can thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the comments.   There is not a method for reporting a comment for spam or misuse.

I suppose that Chime.in might take "Hide" and "thumbs down" as signals to indicate which accounts are spammers or abusers.

This particular Chime has an account name ending in "_Feed" as well as an RSS icon next to it.  Visiting the account profile page you learn that this is an account generated from an RSS feed chosen by Chime.in's staff.  There is not a way for us members of Chime.in to set up a "Feed" style account, nor is there a way to autoshare our RSS feeds into our Chime account.  I wonder if they plan to let us syndicate our RSS feed(s) into Chime or not.  Or alternatively, whether they take suggestions for feeds to syndicate?

Their About Us page has a few interesting things to say:-

At Chime.in we’re building the world’s richest interest network. A place to learn and share with others who have the same interests. Where one day, your every interest, no matter how big or small, serious or silly, will have its own vibrant community of people who are just as passionate about it as you are.

Our goal is to be the most democratic publishing platform in social media. So, we’re building in tools to give everyone a bigger voice: analytics on your posts and followers, ways to connect people with the most relevant and quality content, and, eventually, ways to monetize your content with partners.

The "analytics" etc are not implemented yet, nor is there an apparent way to monetize.  The monetization will obviously have to wait until some future moment when they start putting advertising on the site (at the moment it has no advertising).

I said at the beginning that chime.in has a familiar feel to reddit.  Over on reddit, the community is divided into "sub-reddit's" and is focused around people sharing things of interest on sub-reddits similar to the things of interest.  Reddit members can form sub-reddits.  Essentially chime.in is the same format/structure.

Chime.in has promise … but at the moment I don't quite see enough there to warrant jumping on-board in a big way.  It doesn't seem to be a significant improvement over other social networks.  Maybe they'll add features over time and make it more interesting.  I'm real interest in tools that give "everyone a bigger voice", and will keep watching to see what they come up with.

 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Can online social networks ever satisfy the need for real interaction?

Does a poke on facebook, or instant messages, or chat sessions, or any other online social network interaction satisfy the real need for real interaction? Humans are social animals and have a real need to interact with others.

An example of this is a Fast Company article linked below is a trend in Japan for "cat cafe's". These cafe's give patrons time to interact with animals. The cafe's cite research that pet owners live longer because of the interaction with other living creatures.

There is a trend in the US and generally with the rise of gizmos and social networks interceding in our social connections. That trend of electronically mediated interactions clearly isn't about real human interaction with living creatures.

What will this trend mean to our society as more and more social stuff happens via gizmos and Internet services? What changes does it make to people who lack social interaction? What will that mean to our society as a whole?


Cat Stroking, Not Facebook Poking, Satisfies Needs For Real Interaction

Monday, March 28, 2011

Egypt's facebook revolution 2.0 is real democracy, versus the fake democracy imposed by Western powers?

Earlier this year Egypt had a revolution and overthrew their dictator of 30+ years, Mubarak. Remember that? I know this nuclear reactor thing kinda got our attention, but this wave of revolution sweeping the Middle East is pretty cool. It's a lot more real than the fake democracies the U.S. has imposed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco held a panel discussion called "Egypt and the Middle East: Revolutions 2.0" to talk about this wave of revolution, focusing on the online social network aspect.

It's simply amazing what happened in Egypt but there was one night in the middle of it where I watched Democracy Now and Rachel Maddow and was so certain I'd wake up the next day to hear of a massive massacre. It could have been really bad had different decisions been made.

The discussion (see the audio player further down) covered a wide range of ground around non-violent revolutions, democracy, the multiplier effect of social networks, but there's a thought I want to start with.

In the 1990's the Neocons (Project for a New American Century) was preaching the possibility of flipping the Middle East by installing "moderate democracies". They saw the Middle East as largely antagonistic to the West, without recognizing our own role in creating that antagonism as a result of the decades of meddling in their internal affairs. In any case they thought that by overthrowing the government of Iraq and installing a moderate democracy, that it would inspire a wave of change throughout the Middle East. After the quick overthrow of Iraq, which the Iraqi's would accept with open arms, they would move on to either Iran or Syria, topple those governments, and install moderate democracies there as well. (see the following for some background information written years ago An utter and abysmal failure and Background Material and Review: Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War and Review: Farenheit 9/11)

Those were the plans in the 1990's and when GW Bush came to office in 2001 he brought all the neocon's into power with him (Rumsfield, Wolfowitz, etc) and they proceeded to implement the plans they'd been cooking up during the 1990's. The Iraq war gave them the pretense to go about installing moderate democracy.

At the time I thought - that's crazy, how can you install democracy by pointing guns at people? You can't, it's that simple. The way democracy comes about is by a natural upwelling of the people, and that's what we have going on right now in the Middle East and perhaps in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

The people on the panel did make some similar points but not to the extent I just did. I'm sorry, but that set of ideas has been bottled up inside me for a long time. The people of the U.S. allowed this ridiculous adventure in Iraq to happen, this ridiculous idea that you can install democracy by forcing people to change. But I want to get back to the panel discussion.

Several times the speakers said this revolution wasn't caused by Facebook. Peoples have done revolutions before Facebook existed. However Facebook and Twitter acted as a multiplier.

The fact of life in these repressive Middle East countries is that freedom of speech is squashed. One factoid I learned from this is that before the Egypt Revolution, people could not talk to foreigners unless they had a tourism license. Only those people licensed to be tour operators could speak with foreigners. However, the restrictions on speech did not exist on Facebook and the people could use it to talk freely.

Facebook launched their Arabic version in early 2009 and by 2011 there were five million Arabic speakers. Many on mobile phones. Thousands of Arabic groups were formed on Facebook, and the group used to inspire the revolution had over 300,000 members.

The "April 6" movement, a precursor to the 2011 revolution, was itself organized via Facebook.

People will find a way to communicate. In the past they had to use pamphlets or cassette tapes, now it's Facebook.

One can imagine that with tightly controlled public discourse the freedom they had to talk freely on Facebook must have made the restrictions in the physical world all the more maddening.

The panelists described the post-revolution phase as "taking three steps forward and two steps back". As amazing as that revolution was, today it's not so amazing. The military is in control and the history of Military Junta's does not suggest they're likely to easily give up power. Further, there is sectarian violence happening at some rate. Further, today the people are not so united but each group has their own set of demands. Egypt is going through a period of soul searching that's probably a necessary national debate for them to truly form real democracy.

As it stands they've thrown the bum out, and now as a nation they need to work out what it is they want.

I read a book some time ago discussing iterative change versus revolution. With iterative you change a bit of the system at a time hoping to get to a satisfying end goal. With revolution you erase everything and start over. The writer of that book pushed revolution as the best route, but I'm not so certain. The panelists discussed how currently there are 8 (or so) proposals to tweak the Constitution. That's a form of iterative change, but is that what Egypt needs or do they need sweeping change?

For example the Middle East has a long history of repressing their women. As a westerner I find that repugnant, and the panelists suggested that's one of the changes which should occur in order for Egypt to become a proper representational democracy. But it would be a radical change for a culture with thousands of years of female suppression behind it.

They discussed more - that's just the summary I came away with.

What do you think? Please leave your ideas in the comment box below.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Technorati seems to be totally futzed, no longer relavent, or at least horrible on-site navigation degrades its usefulness

Back in the day Technorati was the place to be ranked as an important or unimportant blogger. Today it seems to be to have lost its way, and the services it used to offer now seem totally useless. The straw which broke open this rant I'm writing is the ranking widget I used to display on another of my blog sites that has now been removed.

Back in the day the technorati ranking widget was commonly displayed. It showed the technorati authority, linked to the technorati profile for the site, etc. By causing us to link to technorati.com it of course influenced the search engine popularity of that site. And presumably in return a blog with a good technorati authority number would gain some credibility by being able to display that number.

technorati.jpgA long time ago Technorati had given me some javascript code for the ranking widget, that used to display a nice ranking widget, but for the longest time didn't work. It didn't display anything and instead a couple links showed through. About a week ago it began displaying the image shown here. A big big prominent rectangle, much wider than a useful sidebar, overlapping my content, being obnoxiously intrusive, blaring its presence, showing no useful data, etc.

Fine, I thought, I'll just go to technorati.com and see what optional widgets were available. BUT there is no apparent selection of ranking widgets anywhere findable on technorati.com. Go to your profile page, go to the claim page for a specific blog, go to the list of administrivia links at the bottom of the page, nowhere is there a link to a page listing widgets. Go to the support area and type "ranking widgets" into the search box and one of the results is a question about ranking widgets saying they are working on something that will be available 'soon'. Bleah. They used to have a page giving various widgets and while it used to be hard to find it was findable. Not now.

How hard can this be?

For some reason I rarely see them mentioned any longer, I rarely see technorati ranking widgets etc any longer. A google search for "technorati rank" didn't turn up recent articles indicating to me that nobody is writing about Technorati any longer.

What the hell is up with Technorati? asks a similar question, notes a different set of problems, and concludes "Technorati FAIL".

Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking a fresh look at del.icio.us (a.k.a. delicious.com)

Del.icio.us is one of the earlier social media websites which had its own 15 minutes of fame several years ago. It's fading into relative obscurity may (or may not) be a warning to upstarts like Twitter but I digress. It seems that del.icio.us has had a facelift of sorts with a bit of modernization or at least the incorporation of some (ahem) twitter support.

Speaking of which here's the setup screen for the twitter support:

delicious-twitter.jpg

When posting to twitter there are a couple new fields to fill in

delicious-twitter-2.jpg

NOTE: Make sure to fill in the "Message" box with your message. My first time through this I thought it would tweet the title field but it instead made a blank tweet with just the link.

Finally the tweet looks like the following.

delicious-twitter-3.jpg

Overall this addition to del.icio.us takes an excellent service and extend it into the twitter landscape. There are other services whose purpose is only to shorten URL's and also post to twitter, such as bit.ly. These newer services don't have what del.icio.us already did so well several years ago, which is to have a well thought out service that already makes excellent use of links to web sites. Obviously del.icio.us has a URL shortening and post-to-twitter service but it's so much more than that.

Tag bundles may be new, I don't remember seeing them before. It's described as a way of grouping tags into meaningful groups. Maybe they mean hierarchicalization of tags? Dunno.

delicious-badge.jpgThey now have a Badge you can add to your website. It has convenient social media features including a link to your del.icio.us profile and more importantly an easy way to get new subscribers to your profile.

Blog posting is still marked as an experimental feature. I tried it once or twice, it never worked for me and I gave up on it long ago. I think today with the twitter support I won't even miss the nonfunctionality of the blog posting feature.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Drupal as social media platform, what's needed next?

I came to the Drupal community with (to the best of my recollection) Drupal 4.6. That makes me a sort of old timer though really there was a lot of Drupal releases before my time. In the 4.6 days most extension of Drupal meant writing modules whereas you youngsters today don't know how easy you have it with Views and CCK ... What drew me to Drupal was the tagline "Community Plumbing" as I was looking for a platform with which to build online communities or what's now known as social networking. My vision is the use of online community to create positive social change.

I just watched this interesting presentation from DrupalCon Paris (2009) - Social Media: What We Need Next ..

I can't agree more though he didn't really come down to specific suggestions. He created a strawman argument that Drupal is in a place in the adoption curve where it's facing a chasm that will determine whether Drupal stay's "small" and secondary, or whether it hits the real big time. Right now Drupal is widely seen as being geek friendly where it's not so easy to do simple things but is simple to do hard things (if you add the right modules like Views and CCK).

Yeah. Very true. e.g. if your goal is "blogging" then Wordpress is probably better suited because it does good quality blogging out of the box. Drupal does adequate blogging out of the box however but that's not good enough because Drupal's user experience and configuration is more like a box of parts rather than a polished product. Wordpress on the other hand is, for all its flaws, focused on solving a particular area ("blogging") and it does that really well.

In most cases someone new approaching a gizmo will be put off if their first step is an installation guide telling you how to put the parts together. What's worse with Drupal is depending on the users goal they may need contributed modules and that involves a number of hairball steps to learn how to navigate the contributed module repository, evaluate which ones are any good, wade through inadequate or nonexistent or wrong documentation, and figure out how the whole thing would work.

Someone wanting to implement a given solution .. they can see the problem in their mind but unless they spend a lot of hours trying out different modules they won't know which modules are best for what and won't have much of a clue on how to get to the solution.

But back to the presentation..

He posited there are two ways the Drupal community is thinking to go:- a) create a "solution" / "product", b) be a "framework" with which others can build solutions

e.g. Does the Drupal community move to a "Core" Drupal distribution on top of which others build Distributions of Drupal? This would be like how the Linux kernel is just an operating system and it requires Distribution teams to assemble all the pieces of a an OS usable by mortals. Or does the Drupal community focus on a given solution and build Drupal for that solution.

I can see value to either. But what must come out the other end is a better product-like user experience.

The easiest direction which I think the Drupal community is already going towards is something like this:-

  • Core Drupal as one tarball
  • The Drupal site would also distribute one or more product-like Drupal distributions, one of which could be a Generic Drupal that's in the vein of the existing Drupal distributions, another could be a Blogging Specialized Drupal.

It would take until Drupal 8 to really implement this, perhaps, unless they're thinking to really bite the bullet and get this model going for Drupal 7. I recently did a D7 install and it offered a couple installation options that hint of this direction. I don't remember the terminology but one option was a slimmed down core Drupal whereas the other was presented as a fancier full Drupal. The admin area of the slimmed down Drupal was very much like current Drupal whereas the admin area of the fancier full Drupal used a wholly different theming and user experience.

Now.. I want to get back to my specific use case: Building communities. Despite the tagline of "Community Plumbing" it isn't such a great platform for building community websites. Community websites in the old days were simply forums, and in the the forum implementation in the core Drupal tarball is a competent forum in the old style. That is except it has behavior differences from popular forum systems and in practice it turns off people who like the behavior of popular forum systems. In any case modern social networking sites are much more interactive and provide a bunch of stuff that Drupal doesn't offer.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Customized tweeting of RSS feed's with feed-aggregation-tools

There are many web applications that offer different takes on what a "power user" does with Twitter. For example feedtweet takes an RSS feed and tweets the latest entries. But what if you want to tweet the feed entries in a manner other than feedtweet's designers thought you should do? What if you do not want to hand your twitter account credentials to a third party? What if you want to have control over your own ship? Blessedly it's relatively simple to write tools for both RSS feed consumption and tweeting.

My own open source project, Feed Aggregation Tools, is one such home grown toolset. It doesn't come packaged as a slick website, instead it's a pile of Java and Groovy code you download and run from a cron job preferably on a Unix-like server (Solaris, Linux, FreeBSD, etc).

A number of tools are built into the Feed Aggregation Tools and its twitter capabilities are a minor bit of what it can do. In any case let's look at how to do interesting things with RSS feeds and Twitter.

First step is installation and setup. This will require having Java, Groovy, Ant and Mercurial installed on your system. Once those are set up follow the instructions (basically run "ant setup").

Among the tools are ones to retrieve an RSS or Atom feed including keeping a long archive of posts on a given feed. For example causes a given RSS feed to be saved in the file "rss-example-local.xml" and further it remembers old entries that were in the RSS feed even when the RSS feed no longer contains those entries.

groovy scripts/feedarchive.groovy <a href="http://example.com/rss.xml" title="http://example.com/rss.xml">http://example.com/rss.xml</a> rss-example-local.xml

But, we are here to talk about twitter. The first tool is tweet which is a simple wrapper around twitter.com's JSON interface.

groovy scripts/tweet.groovy tweetID <a href="http://example.com/url-to-tweet" title="http://example.com/url-to-tweet">http://example.com/url-to-tweet</a> "message to tweet"

This sends a tweet listing both the URL and the message to the account credentials given in "tweetID". The account credentials are given as "account:password".

The next tool, feedtweet, does a combination of the feedarchive script mentioned above along with tweeting new entries. For every new feed entry (not in the feed archive) it tweets the entry.

groovy scripts/feedtweet.groovy <a href="http://example.com/rss.xml" title="http://example.com/rss.xml">http://example.com/rss.xml</a> tweeted.xml 100  "account:password"
</codde>
 
The last tool that's been written, <a href="http://hg.davidherron.com/index.cgi/feed-aggregation-tools/file/tip/scripts/feedrandtweet.groovy#l1">feedrandtweet</a>, tweets a random entry from a feed.  It doesn't save the feed locally, it simply reads the existing feed and tweets a randomly chosen entry.
 
<code>
groovy scripts/feedrandtweet.groovy <a href="http://example.com/rss.xml
">http://example.com/rss.xml
</a>