Wednesday, April 3. 2013
On April 1st we noted the Guardian April Fools joke (that people put on Guardian Goggles to not see things/opinions they don't like) wasn't a joke. People bias their views without needing Guardian Goggles to do it for them. Since writing that, a paper published in Science Daily on March 27 (a few short days before April Fools day) came into Broadstuff Towers, explaining that old Sociological thesis of happy Homophily is bunk. Essentially:
The prevailing sociological theory, known as homophily, is that like seeks like. Those who have similar opinions tend to aggregate together and reinforce opinions that grow more divergent from the center over time. This is the echo chamber model that would seem to gain validation in the era of talk radio, cable news and the Internet. According to this theory, we are polarized precisely because we have greater ability to choose our social networks and news sources. We narrowly tailor our information sources by selecting them based on how closely they mirror our own tastes.
The paper piints out that mathematical models that try to use homophily to explain polarization have come up short as most are based on something known as De Groot's model, which assumes that people form opinions in a way that minimizes overall disagreement within their network of friends and relations. In theory, an individual's opinion gradually converges to an average of those in his or her network. The flaw in these models is that they predict that opinions in society as a whole can only become more uniform over time, resulting in depolarization rather than polarization. Which clearly is not the case. What does explain things better is Biased Assimilation:
Apperently the research is being done to create better recommendation engines and online collaboration tools to help people find common ground on difficult and divisive societal issues, the front-runner approach seems to be systems that show how little difference there is between X and Y, rather than just highlight differences. An interesting fact is worth noting was, when looking at current recommendation systems:
"The system that recommends the most relevant item to a user turns out to be always polarizing. The other two systems, which chose a random item liked by the user and recommends an item most similar to it, were polarizing only if the user was biased to begin with. It was surprising to find that biased assimilation provides a useful framework to analyze the polarizing effects of recommender systems.
So, maybe Guardian Goggles would be better off laying out their Right-On texts alongside the most hateful Torygraph equivalent, and emphasizing the similarities instead, for all died-in-the-wool liberalistas to get the warm and fuzzies from maximium hand-wringing
Monday, April 1. 2013
Guardian's April Fool joke was Guardian Goggles, a device that makes the avidly right-on personista happier by removing sights that are vexatious to their tender souls:
"Now, when you're out shopping, you needn't have memorised our recent features on ethically sourced foods. Just call up the 'Mini-Monbiot' app, and the products you're looking at will be rated in front of your eyes."
The real joke though, is that this really exists today, as people are increasingly selective about the opinions they seek on the Internet leading to a wider polarization of views. It even has a name - Selective Exposure. None so blind as those that can see.....
Thursday, March 28. 2013
Rapid7 discovered the files by searching for storage 'buckets' - logical pool of storage capacity - whose access setting has been changed to 'public', from the default setting of 'private'. This means that a list of the contents of the bucket can be seen to anyone that knows or guesses the URL.
Goes right back to the absolute basics of Security theory, i.e. nothing f*cks up a secure system quite like the "Man in the Middle" giving it all away, whether by design or accident. If you are going to put data in the cloud, make certain the company security procedures are up to it.
Clouds. Caveat Emptor.
Wednesday, March 27. 2013
I wrote about the Summly acquisition by Yahoo yesterday, and wanted to catch up on where it had got to today. Now, there are essentially 2 stories about Summly:
1. Yay! The made-for-media one: Smart 17 year old forms company in bedroom, 18 months later sells smart app to Yahoo for $30m
If you search Google, you get 7 pages of Story 1 in various guises, only on page 8 is the first questioning article shown. If you search Twitter, within 7 or 8 tweets you get a far more nuanced view - it reflects the puff pieces Google has, but also views on what Summly actually is, it's background, why Yahoo may have done the deal etc etc - the sort of stuff investigative journalists once did.
I think its a very interesting comparison between social curation and what is essentially now a "popularity" algorithm. Google's algorithm essentially treats quantity of links as a proxy for quality, whereas increasingly the link quantity is actually a measure of common popularity, not the same thing at all. Read Google, and you'd barely know anything about Summly because the first 7 pages comprise of press regurgitation and it has utterly failed at telling you anything useful about it. To summarise Google, you would think the story is:
(Hat Tip to Marco.com for that).
But search Twitter, and you get a totally different story. Twitter, despite a reputation for being celebrity and inanity obsessed, is in fact - on the basis of my search anyway, far less so than Google. What is certain is that Twitter gave me a far fuller picture, within the first page I got, and, in this case anyway was the better search engine by far.
Also, an interesting thought to ponder is where exactly the accurate measure of the sentiment and influence lies. Reading Google, you would think its a "Yay, Boy Done Good" world out there, and the Yahoo PR department has Done Good and deserves a slap on the back and a good raise. Reading Twitter, however, you get a totally different picture and you can see a far higher high proportion think Yahoo has not been the sharpest knife in the block, and qute a few people qurestioning what Summly actually had to offer. Totally different to Google. And which is more influential? Google records 2.24 million searches on Summly, Twitter is still turning over like a Geiger counter 36 hours later, if you average that at say a Twt every 2 seconds (say 30 per minute) and assume the average Twitterer has 50 users that's c 3.5 million people reached in that time. And the sentiment split on Twitter is very different, its still running at about 50:50 "Yay" vs. "WTF?". So according to Twitter, the Yahoo PR Dept shouldn't be reaching for the Champagne just yet. (Actually, reading the comments to the "Yay" pieces in the Mainstream media gives you a more balanced view too)
But if I were hazarding an educated guess, I'd say that the Twitter audience were likely to be more influential, and probably a more accurate measure of overall sentiment out there. Which, going forward, makes the question of who has the better Search engine very, very interesting. Because that drives the Ad revenue.
Update - was mulling this overnight, another factor is probably the amount of Search Engine "Optimisation" that Google suffers from, ie the entire industry dedicated to spamming Google search barey exists on Twitter today, the most we see so far (apart from teh pretty girl/link to url scammers) is "enthusiastic supporters" of various posters/topics/etc muddying the twittersteam sentiment with endless retweets apporobations etc of their hero (or endless knockdowns if they are opposed). No dount if Twitter became the default search mode this industry would go into overdrive on Twitter too.
Tuesday, March 26. 2013
I went along to hear Geoff Mulgan (NESTA CEO) at the RSA tonight, talking about his new book "The Locust and the Bee" - a larger summary of the book than this post is over here. The topic is parallel to our Big Potoatoes Innovation manifesto (we aessentially argue that "Innovation" in the last 20 years or so isn't, and Mulgan to an extent explains why. In essence he believes that Capitalism has two forces:
These have been with capitalism (and I'd argue human nature) forever, but from the 1980's (especially post fall of Communism in 1989) Predatory capitalism has moved into the limelight. Now Mulgan is not the first to make these observations (cf Karl Marx, Paul Colinvaux, Jared Diamondl), but the narrative needs repeating. Leading up to 2007, Finance had become increasingly detached from real economics, and predatory behaviour made more money than investing in innovation (apart from innovation in money making). Hence the stultifying of real innovation over the last 20 years or so. The 2007 Crisis was caused by Predation.
The question of course, is what to do next. Six years later, there is still no real agreement on what happened leading up to 2007, the vested interests that caused it are largely still in situ, so its hard to find solutions. Failure to agree cause and solution has led to sullen resignation and resentfulness by populations. In a perfect market, a reciprocal "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" ethos reigns, and in simple transactions we feel unfairness - viscerally - but in complex markets it's far harder to see/control predation. There is an evolutionary argument in New Scientist on this as well, i.e that we are well adpated for controlling predatory (cheating) in small groups, but we haven't yet evolved to control it in large groups where the pain is diffuse:
Mulgan notes that Adam Smith wrote a lot on predation, and he showed us how to spot it - profits are from reciprocal relationships, but Rents - surplusses due to are asymmetric power - are predation, and are still all too common in every value chain today. Mulgan argues these rents are why the Western public is still very wary of Capitalism.
The need of course, going forwards, is to control predation, and help creation. But how? Mulgan argues that Passionate "More" and "Less" Capitalism advocates are both ineffective and unhelpful, and a new way is needed as the old polarities don't work. He cast back in history to look at what worked, and some examples are:
- 1930s - initial attempts were to return to 1920s, but new solutions emerged (He emphasized the "good" ones however, while glossng over other solutions, like Nazism and Stalinism), and noted the pain of the 1930's set the building blocks for the social transformations of the next 50 years
Mulgan's message is essentially one of "do good things, and good things will happen"
All good stuff, but nagging away in my mind the whole talk was a slightly different fable, the Locusts and the Ants. Except the version in my mind was not Aesop, where the Locusts played all summer while the Ants toiled and stored up grain, then come the winter the Locusts all starved. No, the fable in my mind was the one in Disney's "Bugs Life", where the Ants toil and the Locusts rob them of all their surplus every so often. I'd argue that that is a far closer analogy to where we are today. And right now, it seems to me that the only country that has got shot of its Locusts, Bugs Life style, is Iceland
Incidentally, talking of NESTA, we did some work a few years back on Innovation in the 1930's US Great Depression. It showed that yes, creativity and innovation absolutely flourished (a large number of the really Great US corporations of In Search of Excellence fame started off in that period, and they tended to last 1-2 generations longer than the average corporate lifespan. But the work also showed that the Locusts died - old companies crashed in the Depression - leaving space for new, innovative ones. Braver 1930's politicians cracked down harder and faster on the Locusts than - Iceland excepted - we are seing today (separation of retail and domestic banking happened in 1933, only 4 years after the crash. We are still waiting for that now, 6 years in and counting...) Roosevelt's New Deal in 1936 was direct government interruption on the side of teh ants. Arguably, without some form of pest control of the Locusts today, as eventually occurs in Bugs Life, I think a far more plausible future is that the capitalism of next few decades driven by Sovereign Wealth funds and "Financial Repression", with minimal real innovation and ever poorer living standards.
On that gloomy note, there was an interesting possible solution mooted - Innovation in "Life Models". Mulgan pointed out that there were a huge number of Utopias being put forward in the late 1700's /early 1800's, just when Monarchism seemed to be at its most powerful (except for a few years in France before Napoleon crowned himself Emperor) and these ceated huge debates, among large number of people, creating a common drive for freedon that, by 1848 had caused open insurrections and by 1860 Monarchism was radically changed, and power had shifted hugely to more democratic institutions, releasing a never before seen period of Innovation before (or since, as we have argued) that pretty much created todays world.
Our argument is that a New Utopia should be based on a massive, societal investment in fact based innovation. If Sao Paulo can spend 1% of its taxes on Innovation, with measurable benefits, why can't London?. Or the UK? Or any country? Hence the Big Potatoes Innovation manifesto. Part of our Innovation Utopia is to use innovative technology to remove Locust rents, which will eventually disempower them. As to agents of this change, two other points of interest from tonight:
- Cities willbe agents of change rather than nation state, as nation state influence was waning - then 2007 hit and "global" companies had "national" debts - and now no one trusts them (I'd argue post Cyprus no one trusts Super States either). But would you die for your city yet?
But history shows that as well as creation, we still need some Locust pest control as well. And if no one steps up to play Roosevelt, history tells us some far less salubrious characters wait in the wings.
It would seem the Next Bubbletime is here, just unevenly distributed - Business Insider:
Yesterday, Yahoo announced it bought a startup called Summly. Summly made a news aggregation app. According to All Things D, Yahoo paid $30 million – 90% cash. $30 million isn't much for Yahoo, which has more than $4 billion in cash (and access to much more). But there are some elements to this deal that make even that small price seem strange:Summly never really set the world on fire. It had fewer than one million downloads. Yahoo is shutting Summly down. So basically, Yahoo is acquiring Summly's talent. Summly's talent is founder Nick D'Aloisio and two other people. Yahoo is saying D'Aloisio's is to lead Yahoo more boldly into the world of mobile
As well as all this, Summly is "pre-revenue". Not only that, but it appears even the underlying aggregation technology is not all theirs but partly SRI's (and thus unlikely to be patentable in any valuable way)
So - small userbase, fairly easy to replicate (or licence) technology. Fairly easy to do it in Yahoo for a few $ million absolute tops, and Yahoo owns the IP - and quite a few other people have already done something like this on PCs and Apps, its no great biggie to build such an App. Also, if Summly falls into someone else's hands it hardly leaves Yahoo without options, so there's no "only pebble on the beach" valuation kicker. It's thus fairly clear to me that Yahoo way overpaid for just the technology, user base and staff - you would probably get to tops about $5m for all that, at absolute best. So why pay $30m, of which 90% is cash, and then shut it down - thats 5x Goodwill over asset value - it beggars belief, unless there is some bigger fish to fry here.
The answer is apparently (reading the news reports) any or all of:
- The "Cool" factor of getting a smart, personable 17 year old (D'Aloisio is still at school) to be the "face of Yahoo's mobile mojo". Now there is nothing wrong with teenage kids, especialy smart ones who are very technologically literate as they are hip and younger than Yahoo itself is, but can this gambit...
Now, in a Wildean sense, the only thing worse that being talked about is not being talked about, all publicity is good publicity etc, and this is certainly being talked about*. So if some of the above come to pass this may be a great idea. If.
- Everyone believes that $25m is a decent price to pay for such PR fireworks, and focusses on the Human Interest spin rather than the "You paid What???" Bubbletime bid, and
Now don't get me wrong - I'm all in favour of young entrepreneurs selling their inventions for oodles of cash (or old ones for that matter). Especially British kids, British Tech needs all the encouragement it can get. And I'm in awe of anyone who gets the likes of Wendi Murdoch, Ashton Kutcher, Yoko Ono and Li Ka-shing as investors, (Ka-Shing before it was even called Summly apparently). It's teriiffic news for Summly, but right now this seems to be a very dumb buy from a Yahoo, unless more information comes to light.
(Update - so far, the stuff coming to light is pointing the other way - look at the justification here for eg)
*Fwiw Twitter is ticking over like a Geiger counter on this, but sentiment is running about 50/50 on this deal right now by our measure, and much of the smart press is more or less incredulous or playing a very straight bat - that certainly is not worth $25m yet, its going to want a blizzard of puff pieces to get off the ground (I predict a snow-storm in the coming months )
PS - Slashdot are also calling the bubble
Update 2 - d'you know, the more I think about the price, the product, the investors, the people at Summly, the comments by the real technorati, the lack of actual users, the more I go "hmmmm". And realise the MSM and Tech Gushblogs have been bamboozled, yet again.
Friday, March 22. 2013
We turned our Social Media Zeitgeist Engine onto Twitter on Monday to watch the Cyprus event unfolding (we orginally built it as a BBC project in 2007, before Twitter even existed and you had to turn all sorts of tricks to extract headlines etc rather than just plug into the firehose - ah, those were the days). Anyway, we decided to take a daily slice of teh unfloding story. Now, one can show various key words climbing and declining over the week, and sentiment waxing and waning etc, but what humans are very good at is "big picture" pattern watching and I personally like watching wordclouds change over time, so here are the samples taken daily at about 5pm in the UK
19th March - refusing the original deal, looking for alternatives
20th March - some principles emerge - the guaranteed deposits will not be taxed
21 March - trying to raise money or change the loan terms from Russia
22 March - looking for new answers
Why are we doing this? Well, apart from it being an interesting use of a social media monitoring system and it being a pivotal moment for the Europroject, I think sampling the social data may be quite an interesting exercise in cliodynamics, especially if we can do this sort of thing
Monday, March 18. 2013
Bailout Wordcloud from Worditout.com via Broadsight Twitter Phirehose
It is no surprise that the Cyprus Cyprus bank raid is sending shivers down people's spines across the European Union (and the wider world - there is something visceral about seeing a government prepared to grab 7% of your guaranteed bank savings here, now, rather than robbing you the traditional ways via raising tax and stoking inflation) so I thought I'd give our social media monitoring system a quick run to see what the sentiment looks like. Talk about a firehose, there is a huge furore going on (update - trending on Twitter now).
The wordcloud above tells the memetic story, ie the concepts that the issue is swirling around (note eurozone, ecb, fail, and the various countries mentioned). The sentiment is nearly all negative (one of the highest ratings I've ever seen on Twitter) not at all encouraging for the politico-financial Euro-elite who sanctioned this move, as no one except the most technical financial analyst-bots are in any way in favour, and very many are very viscerally against it (even The Economist, that bastion of darwinian monetarism thinks its daft). That they even agreed to doing this is "interesting", but there is definitely no excuse for not knowing what their (too oft ignored) citizens' opinions are (update - seems like everyone is now running away and blaming everyone else for the deal). Putting my cliodynamic hat on, I'd say this may well be one of those major tipping point moments, as it is now very clear to every EU citizen just who their ruling Elite's hearts and minds belong to, and it ain't their own citizens. Will be interesting to see what happens next, I think I will poll sentiment every few hours to see how it shifts - who knows, we may be able to predict a riot.
(Post Script - the alternative currencies being posited for holding money on Twitter are gold and mattresses (no surprise) , but also bitcoins before dollars - now that is interesting)
Wednesday, March 6. 2013
How Marissa Mayer found out that Yahoo work-from-home employees were slacking - Business Insider:
Like a lot of companies, Yahoo has something called a Virtual Private Network or VPN. Remote workers can use it to securely log into Yahoo's network and do work. After spending months frustrated at how empty Yahoo parking lots were, Mayer consulted Yahoo's VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough. Mayer discovered they were not — and her decision was made.
Those who have been reading the various Tech News sites, Twitter et al over the last week or so will know this has caused quite a flurry, as the techno-drumbeat has pretty much boomed out the message that there will be more and more remote working, despite most of us knowing that Wikis are a PITA to manage and Skype conferences are crap compared to the real thing.
Smart Work's Janet Parkinson notes, working remotely is just a part of an overall solution, and needs to be managed within an overall smart work strategy, and if not managed can lead to a lot of peanut butter. More at issue is the possible impact on Innovation, critical for knowledge businesses. As Janet notes:
“… telecommuting unfortunately reduces innovation. And because innovation brings in much higher profits than the traditional goal of corporate efficiency, many firms are now learning the value of emphasizing innovation as a primary strategic business goal.”
I suspect if you look at the leverage for quite a lot of business roles, a 10% increase in Integration, Impact and Innovation has far more effect on the bottom than a 10% reduction in desk space costs. We would predict that this marks the high point in the remote work shift for this cycle, probably until far higher bandwidth and collaboration tools become available. (It's also a size thing - its hard to goof off in small teams, much easier in huge corporates)
But in the meantime, all is not lost for all those remote workers still out there. We modestly offer you the groundbreaking Broadstuff Remote Workbot - just install our App on your PC, link it to your Corporate Intranet and your email and it will randomly access the Intranet pages and whatever passes as your corporate research resource, scan other people according to criteria you fill in, mark emails as read, and randomly select a sample to reply to each hour with suitably corporate apparatchikly replies. If you have Yammer or some other Corporate Tweeting tool, you can use the Broadstuff Social Media Climber tool (Social Business 2.0 Version) to pretend you are present online there too. If you buy the both you also get the Boss Pinger , which alerts you by SMS when a bossmail has come in so you can handle it while at the mall/beach/etc. The bundle is cheap at the price, just 5% of your annual salary will do nicely.
After all, consider the alternatives...
Friday, March 1. 2013
Was musing after yesterday's post about where the future of Social Networks is going, and after kicking it around at Tuttle today I am increasingly thinking that it will be an enabling technology like email or web browsing, i.e (apart from the early frothy IPOs), a true Zero Billion Dollar industry. I went down this thought line:
Email and Web Browsing both went this way (as did SMS), initially they operated in wa;;ed gardens, the walled gardens were then broken by interconnection (driven by outsede emergent open standards) and then taken over by open technology.
Seems to me that is going to be the path of Social Networking, so I expect to see my Stage 2 emerge over the next few years, and in 5 years time it will just be there, like web browsing and email, ignored unless it doesn't work, embedded in the Infrastructure
More Broad Stuff
Poll of the Week
Will Augmented reality just be a flash in the pan?
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