Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 28 Feb 2010

Social pruning

I'm a big fan of on-line communities. The ability to form a group of like-minded people who may never have met and who may live in different countries is a wonderful tool. I've joined loads of forums and social sites over the last few years. Most forums are fairly limited in their social functions. You may be able to mark certain people as friends and send them private messages, but the overall population will be limited to those interested in the topics discussed there.

I think that the first proper social site I joined was Multiply. I liked their focus on sharing stuff with friends and family rather than talking to the whole world. The way you can restrict access to any item is the best I've seen, but it hasn't taken off in a big way. I got a few people on there and it has proved useful. Much later I gave in to Facebook as there were lots of people I know there. There are just so many things I don't like about it, but I can see why those are part of why people find it attractive. It's a real walled garden that protects you from the wider internet. They do set very low thresholds for forming new communities (groups), but those I have joined do not seem to be used much. People join and then do nothing to contribute. Facebook Pages can act like RSS feeds to keep you updated on your favourite band or other organisation. I just prefer more open technologies that don't tie you to a single site.

I've also joined other networks like Twitter, identi.ca (the Free Twitter), Friendfeed and now Google's Buzz. They all offer the ability to communicate and have mostly been useful to me. I've been suffering from duplication due to people posting to multiple services to reach the largest audience and so have been cutting back on my connections. I've dropped those on Facebook who just posted their Twitter updates and those on Twitter who I had followed at some point, but did not converse with and who were not posting anything I really needed. I'm following a few extra people on Buzz as it doesn't demand immediate attention like the microblogs. Buzz needs more ways to filter and priorities updates. Being able to group people would be good. I do this with Google Reader so that I can read posts on a given topic.

A discussion elsewhere was inspired by a friend who doesn't like using social sites as he feels they expose too much personal information to potential or actual bots that could pull together all sorts of data about us and draw conclusions about our movements, relationships and activities. I'm not as paranoid as him, but I do limit the amount of personal data I release. I don't talk much about family and usually only mention friends who are active on-line anyway. Others are posting every little detail of their lives on Facebook and Twitter. Either they don't care about the risks or just don't consider them. I don't really know how real the risks of identity theft are that you hear about in the press. I've played with semantic technologies like FOAF that make it very simple to harvest personal details, but also limited details of names, locations and dates there. It would be great to be able to build your address book from publicly published data, but it's likely to be abused. That said, I know people who have put their personal telephone numbers on web sites and not suffered from abuse.

I wanted to write more about how I was rationalising my networks, but I still haven't worked out the details. I don't follow hundreds of people, but I'm trying to keep the flood of incoming updates to manageable levels. I don't want to spend all my time reading them. I've got other things I want to do, like making music. I've been doing a few experiments with my guitar and uploading them to SoundCloud.

[22:02] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

Fri, 12 Feb 2010

Buzz off

The internets have been 'buzzing' (sorry) this week with talk about Google's latest product, Buzz. I seemed to get it straight away as it doesn't require invitations as Wave still does. It appears as an extra folder in Gmail. There you can post status messages that can include links and images. You can 'connect' various types of sites that you have in your Google Profile and then updates on those will also appear in your stream. People can then comment on them there and you can follow those people to see their updates.

As many people have been saying this is very like FriendFeed. That does almost exactly what I describe above, but has a few more features. You can opt out of certain parts of a person's feed, e.g. if you don't want to see their Youtube favourites. You can also create a 'virtual friend' in case someone you know doesn't join FriendFeed, but you still want to aggregate their various feeds. Plus you can create a group based around a set of people and allow others to subscribe to that group. FriendFeed does some removal of duplicates so you don't have to see when someone posts the same item to multiple sites.

I've used FriendFeed for a while and like it, but not many friends have joined. I can still use it to keep up with things and have it as a gadget on my iGoogle page. Facebook bought the site recently, but I've not seen any signs of integration yet.

Facebook is still the big player and is reaching a much wider audience than anything else. Smiles were raised at the ignorance of some Facebook users when they ended up on the wrong site and couldn't log in. Facebook aims to be usable by anyone and wants to be a safe walled garden for them so they don't have to go anywhere else. Features like Pages act like RSS so users can get all their news without leaving the garden. I use some of these features, but stay away from all the silly games and useless applications. I think Facebook lowers the barriers for non-technical people to build communities.

A common meme amongst all of the above is the Like button so show you enjoyed an item, whatever that may mean. I don't see a Dislike button. You can also comment using all of them, but some people, including my friend Wulf don't like the way this divides the comments across multiple sites. I'd also prefer comments on my blog posts to be on my site. Maybe we need a standard that allows comments on aggregating sites to feed back to the original post. Part of the reason I started using Disqus comments was to get more control over my comments and to track those I make on other sites, but it's not that widely used.

I'm reserving judgement on Buzz for now as it's very early days. I do like Google products and use a lot of them. If they can get the integration right and satisfy the various demands for privacy then it has potential. I don't know if this means that Wave is being dropped as it doesn't seem to have evolved much since the launch.

[13:27] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

Fri, 05 Feb 2010

ebooking

This was prompted by some recent posts by my fried Wulf about ebooks. I've read a few ebooks on my Palms and my phone. These have all come from free sources such as Feedbooks. We still buy books, but mostly for Xmas and birthdays. I have enough to keep me going for a while as I don't find much time for reading apart from in bed and then I seem to be catching up on the interesting bits of that week's Saturday Guardian. I still keep a few books on my phone to fill the time when I'm hanging around somewhere with nothing to do. I've been reading one of Cory Docktorow's books for months now. A colleague has his Windows phone or iPhone on his desk with a book on screen to read whilst waiting for code to compile.

I find my phone adequate for reading novels. There's no need for fancy navigation, search and other features. I have seen some dedicated ereaders, such as the Sony devices. The screens look readable, but I don't like single-purpose devices. Having an all-in-one device is more convenient, but always means some compromises. I've not seen a Kindle.

I would only pay for ebooks if they offer good value. I think they should cost much less than a paper book for various reasons. They have minimal production costs, you lose some convenience in being able to share them with friends, especially if DRM is used and they have no resale value. Similar criteria apply to music, but I have bought a few download albums that were reasonably priced and DRM-free. Both have immediacy in that you can order them and not have to wait for delivery. I can ereaders as being more useful for ephemeral media like newspapers and magazines, but publishers have to find new ways to present their material and perhaps still force advertising on the reader.

The iPad has been mentioned as a medium for reading books. It may be usable as such, but seems too big to carry around with you. I'd be happy just to have a phone with a larger screen as long as it still fits in my pocket. I can sort of see a market for the iPad (crap name) as a media consuming device for the non-technical. Some people don't want to worry about operating systems and files. They just want to watch video, listen to music or surf the web. No doubt people will find other uses for it, e.g. as a control surface in audio/video work.

Something I've heard a few times is that Apple design their devices to be easy to use, but Microsoft try to cram in maximum features and worry about the controls later. My Windows phone is certainly clunky to use. I much prefer the Palm UI, but I don't even have a touch screen on this phone. I'm unlikely to change phones again for a while, so I'll get by with this one, despite the cracked screen. I have other demands on my money for a while.

[22:05] | [/Gadgets] | Comments | G

Thu, 04 Feb 2010

Jamming at the Plough

As previously mentioned I've been mostly playing my acoustic guitar since the band project dried up. I've been keeping an eye on sites like musofinder and Bandmix for possible collaborations. With my general lack of time it would have to be something local and not require too much commitment.

I also subscribe to updates from the Lemonrock gigs listing site to see what's going on locally. I noticed there were 'Jam sessions' at a pub the other side of Hitchin. The listing said it was an Open-Mike, but I thought I'd have a look. I practiced a couple of songs and took my guitar along a just before Xmas. The pub is slightly off the beaten track down some tiny roads. It took me a while to found as I foolishly didn't use the sat-nav. When I got there I found the organiser Rick getting set up. He said it really was a jam session and to bring in my guitar. He plays ukulele, mandolin and violin. Other people turn up each week, mostly with guitars, but we've had banjos, saxophone and didgeridoo(!). The music varies between Irish and other folk tunes, sixties pop song, blues and other genres. I've done a few rock songs I know and people join in. Generally people have chord/lyric sheets that you can use or I just watch others for the changes. I've even been doing some singing. I'm not great, but I'd like to improve. There are other people in the pub, but I don't feel too self-conscious.

Some weeks are rehearsals for the pub 'band', the Ploughmen. I played at one of those where there were more songs I knew. It's all good practice, but I could do with improving my chord repertoire and technique. I'm looking around for a teacher to get some lessons. They are a friendly crowd with some good players, including a member (still) of the band Matchbox who had a hit in my youth and a director of a UK guitar company who plays a mean guitar and banjo.

I need to find some more songs to learn and share with them. I'm trying to find some that stretch me a bit. I did The Eagles' New Kid in Town this week and just about made it through after trying to throw in a few twiddly bits. Song suggestions are welcome. I try to practice a few times a week, but am also helping my son learn. His piece this week is Green Day's Good Riddance that I would like to play myself.

I've just splashed out on a few guitar accessories. I've had the same strings on my guitar for ages, so got some more sets. Although I have multiple devices to tune my guitar (in Zoom H4, Korg Pandora and Roland amp) I lacked something convenient for tuning the acoustic and so bought a Korg AW-2G. It's a very neat gadget and seems to work well. I used to have a Korg tuner years ago, but sold it when I didn't think I'd be playing much acoustic. This is better as you just clip it on and it picks up vibrations through the guitar. I bought from Strings Direct who got it to me today even though I only ordered yesterday afternoon.

[21:50] | [/Music] | Comments | G

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