Tag Archives: Social Software

The Italian lonelygirl15 and six degrees of Justin Timberlake

I’ve been following the blog of Asia “Justin2u” on Libero.it since its beginning, one month ago. Asia tries to exploit the six degrees of separation thing in order to meet Justin Timberlake in just one month. Since I cite this folklore theorem almost in every talk I give, people sent me the link to this “live experiment”, Asia’s blog. The sentence in the header explains it in this way: “Io conosco te ke conosci lui ke conosce l’altro ke conosce uno ke conosce Justin Timberlake e ke poi me lo presenta. E ke poi vuole il mio numero e mi kiama e mi kiede di arrivare e io vengo ;)” that is, in my opinion, a very funny way to explain the 6degrees thing: “I know you that know him that knows the other one that knows that one that knows Justin Timberlake and that he introduces me to him. And that then he wants my tel number and he calls me and he asks me to arrive and then I come ;)”. Loosely related, even Kevin Bacon tried to exploit the idea, creating sixdegrees.org: “With SixDegrees.org you can ask connections to donate to a charity.”
Asia is funny and very good-looking, she speaks in a funny very-youngish Italian (lots of “k” and “troppo + verb”). Check her first video I just uploaded on YouTube.

My bet is that she is not a normal girl just wanting to meet Justin but an actress, part of a commercial attempt to get some buzz about Libero.it social platform and of course I’m not the only one thinking so. Her blog is on Libero.it. All her videos were uploaded on libero videos (even while a lot of people in the comments kept suggesting to upload on youtube in order to get some non-italian connections, well she did upload her last video on youtube but i think it is just because she is going to reveal anyway her identity soon). All the friend blogs linked from her Libero blog are other Libero blogs. She invited people in chat and, guess what, yes it was on Libero chat. Actually before her blog I didn’t even know that Libero had blogs and videos and chats but now a lot of people in Italy know about it. So my bet is that she is an actress but of course I might be very wrong, well, I guess we will know in few days. By the way, I uploaded her first video (that was only on Libero video) on Youtube: if she is real and just wants to get the word out, she will be happy about this, otherwise if she is a commercial effort, someone will ask to remove the video from YouTube, simple eh?
Overall, I’m happy there is some clever marketer in Italy that is able to exploit the lonelygirl15 model, they didn’t invent it of course but just copying it quickly enough is something I’m very happy about. In case you don’t know, lonelygirl15 is an interactive web-based video serial centering around the life of a fictional teenage girl named Bree, whose YouTube username is the eponymous “lonelygirl15”. The series is presented through short, regularly-updated video blogs posted by the fictional characters, as well as through an optional alternate reality game. lonelygirl15 came to international attention as a “real” video blogger who achieved massive popularity on YouTube, a popular video sharing website, but was eventually outed by suspicious viewers as a fictitious character played by American-New Zealand actress Jessica Rose (from lonelygirl15 Wikipedia page). She got a lot of fame and actually she was hired by the United Nations in 2006, to fight poverty through an online anti-poverty video. Rose portrayed the lonelygirl15 character as she sat by herself in her bedroom talking to the camera. The subject matter in these videos focused on antipoverty (again from Wikipedia). I’m still incredibly surprised to see United Nations reacting so quickly to the buzz and using these non very conventional marketing strategies, though I’m not able at all to get a basic idea about their effectiveness.
Anyway, I guess we will not see Asia as United Nations Ambassador but still it was a clever way to get a lot of buzz around Libero social platform.
(In case you are wondering, all my links to Libero here are vote-abstain and nofollow so no Google juice, sorry ;-)

Google losing trust, Wikipedia still gaining trust

Try a search for “wordpress blog” on Google and you get an advertisement of Google that says “Tip: Want to share your life online with a blog? Try Blogger”. As you probably know, Blogger is a product of Google. Advertisements to other products of Google are displayed when searching for “photo sharing”, for “calendar”, etc. So where is the problem you might ask? According to Blake Ross, of Firefox fame, “this is a bad sign for Google … Google lost me today”. The title of the post is interesting as well: “Tip: Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose“.
And very timely there is the announcement of Jimmy Wales, the man behind Wikipedia, that plans to launch a new search engine in the first three months of 2007 (read the article on BusinessWeek).
“Like Wikipedia, the new search engine will rely on the support of a volunteer community of users. The idea is that Web surfers and programmers will be able to bring their collective intelligence to bear, to fine-tune search results and make the experience more effective for everyone.”
Users will be allowed to rerank search results by clicking on an “edit” link and programmers will be allowed to read and improve the code since it will be free software, based on Apache’s open-source Web search software Lucene and Nutch.
Wikiasari is the name of the project and I think we will speak a lot about it in the next future (few years ago I would have said we will hear a lot about it in the next future, the change of perspective is amazing). And everything goes back to trust as usual: who would you like to help with your knowledge? A trust-me-on-openess project like Wikiasari and Wikipedia or a trust-me-on-faith project like Google or Britannica? I personally have no doubt at all.

Presentation in standard format, S5

Some days ago I had to give a presentation for the 2K* symposium, a joint initiative of research groups from different IT institutions, based in Trento and in Genova. The 40 mins presentation was titled “Trust in Recommender Systems: an historical overview and recent developments” (check the source code!). It is heavily based on an old presentation, I just added some slides about microformats, a concept I wanted to convey to the audience.
Anyway, I took the occasion to try to create the presentation in HTML using S5: A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System developed by Eric Meyer. I think I will create all my future presentation in S5 from now on. The advantages: it “forces” you to keep the slides simple (no unnatural flow of information) and short (however you can have animations, check this slide); it is easy to publish the presentation on the Web, anyone can link to a specific slide, search engines find the information and index them, it is highly standard, evolutionary and small-pieces-loosely-connected-philosophy-like (for exaple it would be possible to create a small piece of javascript code that collect slides from different presentations in some meaningful automatic way to create a new presentation, but the possibilities are endless of course, especially if using the S5 format based on XOXO microformat), I can create the presentation with whatever text editor (perfect if you are in text mode), it does not require the viewer to have some fancy program (openoffice for the freedom lovers, powerpoint for the others) but a browser suffices.
You can find many presentations in S5 format in the microformats wiki; I also liked this presentation of Firefox, with style vulpes-flagrans or with style greenery. Yes, I know the stile I used for my presentation is not that great, if someone with graphical skills would like to create a style for me, it will be very appreciated of course.
For starting playing with S5, I suggest you S5 primer (you need to download HTML code and edit it) or S5present, an open-source web-based slideshow application (you just create an identity there and then use the site for creating the presentation). Guess what? S5 Presents was written in under 10 hours and 500 lines of code using the fantastic Ruby on Rails framework.


A Microformat for grouping all your identities?

Jesse comments on my Identity Burro post in which I spoke about OpenId as a possible method for tieing together various ids you have on social sites (flickr, del.icio.us, …). I want to be able to say that on flickr I’m phauly and on del.cio.us I’m paolomassa and on 43thing I’m mariah, etc. He ponders 2 solutions, a centralized and a decentralized one. I’m totally for the decentralized solution. I was suggesting OpenID but, to be sincere, I still need to interiorize well OpenID, I can feel it is a great idea but still need to understand all its power (and how to use it).
Actually I think a microformat would be killer for this. Jesse says # Distributed solution – people can embed their information on their homepage, which can be mined by a greasemonkey script. If I want to know Paolo’s del.icio.us, flickr, 43thigns, … I need to visit his homepage and grab his list.
I would add: they can embed this information … using a microformat and hence adding some simple semantics and a possibility to thousands of services to bloom!
So according to the microformats process I’m going to send an email in the mailing list to see if there is interest, then we will Document current human behavior on the microformats wiki: are people already writing on their blogs which are their identities on social sites? Do they already do it using some formats? There are already formats for expressing your identities? And then I guess we’ll see what happen.
I can hear someone asking “Attacks? Spamming?”. Yes, on my blog I can claim my identities are boingboing (blog), danah (photos), ethanzuckermann (URLs on del.icio.us), etc. But it is just as now I can open a blog on blogger and claim I’m bill gates or the pope. Or I can leave comments on anyone’s blog as Scoble writing “Microsoft is watching you”, no? Read “What about spam?” on OpenID.net homepage to get an idea.
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BBC Phonetags and future of radio

Great project from Tom Coates: Reinventing Radio: On Phonetags… This post concerns an experimental internal-BBC-only project designed to allow users to bookmark, tag and rate songs they hear on the radio using their mobile phone.
BBC seems a wonderful place to work in (play in?) these days: BBC opencontent backstage, BBC creative archive, BBC opensource code.
UPDATE: Tom correctly comments that this project is Not just me – also Matt Webb, Gavin Bell and others. I’m just the person able to write it up most effectively.

Identity Burro: making social sites more social.

Identity Burro Project Page.
[Impatients can check the Flash video or the Screeshots or directly install the script (current version 0.4).]
Identity Burro is a Greasemonkey script for Firefox that gives quick access to all the public aspects of a person: photos, blog, preferred sites, preferred songs, etc.
Precisely, when you navigate on the Web page of a certain user on (for example) Flickr, it inserts into the Web page links to the page of the same user on , Del.icio.us, Technorati, CiteULike, WebJay, Last.tm/Audioscrobbler, Rojo, 43things, 43places, AllConsuming, LiveJournal, Simpy (see Screenshots). And of course it works also on the other sites, i.e. when you are on del.icio.us page of user “alice”, links to the userpage of “alice” on the other sites are shown (see Screeshots).

An example? Have it. danah seems to use consistently the nick “zephoria” on social sites so you can try the extension with her Web presence (if you prefer to first watch and then try, you can see the Flash video of what will happen).
1. Just install Identity Burro script (or see install howto ).
2. Then visit (for example) zephoria page on Flickr or zephoria page on last.fm.
3. Now on the left of the flickr or last.fm danah’s page, you see a box with some icons that links to the pages of danah on the other social sites (see screenshot).
4. You can also expand the box to see more descriptive text for links (see screenshot).
5. If you click, for example, on the del.ciou.us icon, you land to zephoria page on del.icio.us.
6. Can you think of another? Well, feel free to add it in the comments.

So basically when you find an interesting user on, say, del.icio.us, you can try to see (one-click-away) her photos of Flickr, and her blog, and her preferred songs on Last.fm and Webjay, and the things she wants to do on 43things, and … Of course, sometime the user will have a different nick on different sites and in this case the script is not that useful (however see possible inprouvements) but, hey, it is only one-click-away so you can give it a try anyway, right?

Possible improvements
1. Assuming that a person has the same nickname on all the social sites is of course working on very limited cases. So what do we need? We need a parent place where an user can reasonably keep a link to all her identities (and possibly expressing them with a microformat, hIdentity?), and what better than your own blog? Possibly we could use OpenID, a decentralized identity system but I haven’t thought too much about it. Do you have any suggestion?
An OpenID identity is just a URL. You can have multiple identities in the same way you can have multiple URLs. All OpenID does is provide a way to prove that you own a URL (identity). And it does this without passing around your password, your email address, or anything you don’t want it to. There’s no profile exchange component at all: your profiile is your identity URL, but recipients of your identity can then learn more about you from any public, semantically interesting documents linked thereunder (FOAF, RSS, Atom, vCARD, etc.).
2. From a visual point of view, the HTML element inserted in the HTML page (divs, links, etc) inherits the CSS style of the current site. For example if flickr would have a black background and links in shocking pink, the IdentityBurro box would have them as well. Since I would like to have the same box, with the same colors and spaces between lines and fonts in all the possible sites, the question is: there is a way to clear all the previous set styles for an element? a sort of resetStyle? or somewhere a list of how all the CSS properties are set by default? If you have suggestions, the comments may be a good place where to place them. [In the code there is the variable resetStyle that tries to reset all the styles and it is prepended in every your_element.setAttribute("style",resetStyle+ "your specific inline css here")].
3.Still some sites to be added such: furl, wist, blogmarks, tagsurf, upcoming, jots, podcast, bloglines, smugsmug, bookswelike, kinja.com. Any more?
4. creating an ajax method that query google or yahoo! for “<username> blog” and creates a link with the first returned result (possibly the highest in the two combined queries) with anchor text such as “guessed blog of <username>”. For the ajax-power, I guess I need to steal, … ehm, take inspiration again from the fantastic bookburro code! ;-)
5. peritus was thinking about doing something with FOAF information as well. I can’t remember now precisely what.

Thanks to:
Jesse for providing the fabolous BookBurro Greasemonkey script and releasing it under Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5”
Peritus for improuving the script in various ways.
– The mozilla community at large for providing Firefox, a web browser it is fun to play with (and hopefully, in the process, improuve it a bit).
– Otis Gospodnetic, creator of simpy.com, for sending me by email the code for adding simpy to the list of supported sites that was introduced in version 0.4.

The script code is released under a Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5” (since BookBurro code was). So feel free to play with it, improuve it, redistribute it, …

How to install Identity Burro
1. Install the Mozilla Firefox browser;
2. Install the Greasemonkey extension;
3. Install the Identity Burro script (current version 0.3).
[If you have problems, check the Flash video]
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Identity Burro: GreaseMonkey extension for social sites.


UPDATE: there is now an IdentityBurro project page
You are looking at the page of xyz on flickr and you would like to see xyz‘s bookmarks on del.icio.us?
Or, you are on the technorati profile page of abc and you would like to see abc‘s photos on flickr?
Well, if one of these desideratas has been in your mind before, you now have it!
Enter Identity Burro (or IdentityBurro), a GreaseMonkey extension that inserts, in the profile page of user xyz on flickr or del.icio.us or technorati, the link to the profile pages of user xyz on flickr and del.icio.us and technorati. Your social sites are now more social!
See the screenshots.

Still with me? Then I guess you might want to install:
   Current Version: Identity Burro v0.1

At the moment there is nothing better I can do that assuming an user has the same nick on every site: I assume xyz@flickr is xyz@del.icio.us and xyz@technorati. I know this is by no means guaranteed to be true (or desirable). I hope (and ask) that one of this social sites will soon let its users to enter which are their nicks on other sites. In this way I would be able to get this information and put the correct links when xyz@flickr is called abc@del.icio.us.

And of course, as you can see by the name of the extension, inspiration for this extension came from the mighty BookBurro extension, whose creator Jesse I just met few days ago at the AAAI 2005 conference in Pittsburgh.
The code is released under a Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5” licence (since Book Burro was released in this way and the shareAlike option didn’t really give me a chance to change licence for a GPL).

If you like, you might want to let me know if it works in the buggy browser, I mean, Internet Explorer.
# when expanded, part of the unexpanded interface (buttons and icons) remains in background, more transparent. understand why and fix it
# when expanded the “expand” icon should become a “shrink” icon (the arrow in the other direction).
# some CSS properties are inherited from the current site, so that for example, the extension looks a bit different in flickr and in del.icio.us. Understand which are the properties of which elements and overwrite them (surely the background of some elements is inherited).
# adding more social sites, for example, webjay, citeulike, last.fm, audioscrobbler, furl, wist, blogmarks, 43things, tagsurf, upcoming, jots, podcast, consumating, rojo, bloglines, smugsmug, bookswelike, kinja.

Leave comments to this post for communicating with me about the extension.
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AAAI05: terrific talk by Marty Tenenbaum

AI Meets Web 2.0: Building The Web of Tomorrow Today by Dr. Jay M. Tenenbaum.
Terrific terrific talk, fascinating. I should have podcasted it because you really missed something (except I have nothing to record audio on, would you consider sending me your old mp3 recorder pen?). I was so excited during the talk that I happened to take a photo of almost any slide. Actually the slides were 94 and I photoed 59 of them! Incredible to me as well.
Anyway, you might want to read the slides (pdf) or maybe you want to have a look at my pictures (possibly as a slideshow).
He introduced all the stuff I enjoy, such as Blogs, RSS, wiki (wikipedia), folksonomies, tags, flickr, Del.icio.us, microformats (aka Lower case semantic web), technorati, pubsub, greasemonkey (bookburro, greasemap) and much more; all tied together in a fascinating, convincing, making-sense manner!
After his presentation, we spoke about my research and he seemed interested. He invited me to visit commerce.net for one month or so and I have to say that I really like the idea. I spoke also with Rohit Khare that is actually working with Tenenbaum and he has a whole bunch of very clever, fascinating, realizable ideas that would really make an impact. They also underline more than once that this kind of architecture/language-of-web2.0 projects should be open source and I totally agree with them and like it.
Actually after the presentation, while I was speaking with Marty and Rohit, there was also Jesse Andrews, the creator of the mind-blowing book burro (actually he got most of the attention, totally deserved by the way). I guess it should be too cool having someone presenting your hack on a conference and then go to meet that person and say “You know the Book Burro extension you presented? Well, I’m the creator of it!”. Cool! If you want to see how Jesse looks like, here is a picture of him and wait some more great hacks from him in few days.

SocialSearch: risk of moving from “tyranny of the majority” to “the daily me”

On Yahoo!Blog, while presenting its new MyWeb2.0:
The answer a web search engine delivers is what it believes is the correct answer for the majority of users – often referred to as “the tyranny of the majority”. For example, when you search for ‘apple’, the first result on most search engines is Apple Computer. But you may have been searching for information about the fruit or Apple Records.
This is a point I’m making since some years and so I totally agree that this is a problem of current search engines and I totally agree that considering personal trust networks of users is the solution to go (actually this is my my PhD research topic).
But I want also to point out, as I already did some time ago, that on the other extreme (total personalization) there is another, maybe bigger, risk: “the daily me”.
If you only see web sites, opinions, movies, etc of people you already agree with, you will never ever meet new, unexpected points of view, you will never ever need to argue your points with someone that thinks different (and possibly change your mind, at least a little bit), you will simply exacerbates your opinions, you will end up not even being able to understand the language used by people that are not in your “community” of like-minded friends!
If you are an anarchist speaking/reading only other anarchists, you will strengthen your opinions, they will become more extreme. Or if you are a catholic orthodox, or … The same is true for every group: liberals watching and reading mostly or only liberals; moderates, moderates; conservatives, conservatives; neo-Nazis, neo-Nazis. The resulting divisions run along many lines–of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, wealth, age, political conviction, and more. Most whites avoid news and entertainment options designed for African-Americans. Many African-Americans focus largely on options specifically designed for them. So too with Hispanics

This will produce extremism and fragmentation of society and could have terrible, violent consequences.
The great book of Cass Sunstein Republic.com analyses this risk and more importantly tries to suggest a range of potential reforms to correct current misconceptions and to improve deliberative democracy and the health of the American republic.

First, people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance. Unplanned, unanticipated encounters are central to democracy itself. Such encounters often involve topics and points of view that people have not sought out and perhaps find quite irritating. They are important partly to ensure against fragmentation and extremism, which are predictable outcomes of any situation in which like-minded people speak only with themselves. I do not suggest that government should force people to see things that they wish to avoid. But I do contend that in a democracy deserving the name, people often come across views and topics that they have not specifically selected.

Second, many or most citizens should have a range of common experiences. Without shared experiences, a heterogeneous society will have a much more difficult time in addressing social problems. People may even find it hard to understand one another. Common experiences, emphatically including the common experiences made possible by the media, provide a form of social glue. A system of communications that radically diminishes the number of such experiences will create a number of problems, not least because of the increase in social fragmentation.

I think it is time that everyone of us (especially those involved in creating personalized services, and hence in this case, especially Yahoo!) should start thinking about this problem before we are too ahead in the future. What do you think?