Saturday, 28 February 2009

A load of Twitter - the rewrite

Another take on that article in the Sunday Times; this time a nice parody by @kevinmarks, taking the original article and replacing references to Twitter with references to writing a column/being a rent-a-quote/The Times:
"Despite the big losses and the ennui swirling around his product, Murdoch (who also coined the term "Digger") has admitted many are bewildered when they first encounter The Sunday Times."
"'We are the most narcissistic age ever,' agrees Dr David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist and director of research based at the University of Sussex. 'Being quoted about something you don't use suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist. It may stave off insecurity in the short term, but it won’t cure it.'"
"'It doesn’t matter what people say in their columns — it’s not the point.'"

Lovely stuff.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Egotistical? Inadequate? Vacuous? Ah, you must be on Twitter

Ahh, The Times - they're at it again, completely missing the point of social media: on this occasion, Twitter.

Now admittedly the print version of this nonsense appeared in Sunday's Style section, so perhaps to expect deep thought and considered judgements would have been a bit optimistic, after all Twitter's hardly Lady Gaga's trademark big knickers, is it? As for the otherwise demonstrably intelligent bunch of Drs, de Bottons and Oliver Jameses the Times has corralled together to hypothesise glumly under the headline a LOad Of TWitTEr (The Times' own haste and illiteracy implying typography), however, there can be no excuses: the point, gentlemen, is CONVERSATION; the clue's in the name, SOCIAL media.

Not even once does the article mention, or even appear to consider that Twitter isn't merely one-way communication. Instead, we get generalisations such as the following (incidentally, I'm not even on Twitter yet, but misthought generalisations like these are fast persuading me to be):


"'We are the most narcissistic age ever... Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist.'" - Dr David Lewis

"'I would guess that the typical profile of a 'follower' is someone who is young, and who feels marginalised, empty and pointless. They don't have an inner life.'" - Oliver James

"'Twittering stems from a lack of identity... Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.'" - Oliver James

The word 'guess' in that second quote, to me, suggests that perhaps James wasn't entirely familiar with the territory, perhaps even hypothesising purely on something that had only just been explained to him by the article's writer. On the other hand, let's not be too fair to James, if there was any ignorance on his part he certainly doesn't let it get in the way of making a strong sweeping claim, does he?


"'[Twitter] is a giant baby monitor.'" - Alain de Botton

"'The primary fantasy for most people is that we can be as connected as we were in the womb, a situation of total closeness.'" - Alain de Botton

"'Children like to play 'I have a secret to tell you'. It's great fun, but what they say is often not very important.'" - Alain de Botton

Good grief, was there actually the hint of a positive benefit to Twittering there? That it might be fun? How ever did that make it into the article? (Probably because it's still saying that the content of a tweet is essentially meaningless, but anyway).


"...this rolling news service of the ego." - the article's author's description

"'They don't say, What do you think of Descartes's second treatise?'" - Alain de Botton

You reckon, Alain? Just a few seconds of research into the feasibility of a website idea I had the other day proved to me otherwise (it wasn't a question about Descartes I stumbled on, but close enough). Not only that, but how many philosophers have distilled their wisdom into aphorisms? Yep, plenty, and you'll find plenty of their efforts on Twitter; not to mention more contemporary philosophical observations. As for when longer-form discussion would be more appropriate, that's when you switch to e-mail, blogs, the telephone, face-to-face - but that doesn't invalidate Twitter, it's still an elegantly simple way to ask the important questions, to initiate and set up the discussion.

"'It makes us look young. And that is a high-status position in this society.'" - Alain de Botton

So why are so many young people on it? (Oh yes, I forgot, because they're all missing the womb).

"'It doesn't matter what people say in their tweets - it's not the point'" - Alain de Botton

"'Tweets are really just a series of symbols. The person writing it just wants to be in the forefront of your mind, nothing more.'" Dr David Lewis

Really? So the idea of sharing information doesn't come into it anywhere, or altruism, or spreading/breaking news, or any of the reams of sociological and philosophical theory that's been written down the years chronicling the evolutionary benefits of such behaviours, and how they figure in the building of civilisation? And again, what about two-way communication?

I don't mean to make grand claims for Twitter here, by the way, or suggest that some Twitterers aren't in it for the ego, or because of social isolation (and if it helps with that, so much the better), but come on, it's not just about saying 'I exist, look at me.' I mean, look at how many tweets are actually questions, or recommendations, the news stories that have been broken on Twitter lately, the way it's being used to warn people of where the Australian bush fire might be heading next, and so on - in fact, is it not a bit like Google, but more personal? And with greater likelihood that the links will be exactly what you need, that the news will be the news that interests you? Could it perhaps be the ultimate search engine, as well as a handy communication tool?

Hm, actually, those are fairly grand claims...

Dammit. Now I really have talked myself into joining - it just better not be too distracting.

See you on there soon!

UPDATE: Some further thoughts in the comments - in short, a more Twitter sympathetic journalist might have framed what de Botton had to say somewhat differently. (But only 'might'. Either way, he doesn't get off scot-free). 

Friday, 20 February 2009



A few posts ago I raised the question of how to introduce yourself to things on the internet that you might like but don't yet know that you'll like (or something like that). Musically at least, might be worth a look. Here's what it does: scans through Twitter for tweets about music, sticks them up on its front page, and - the crucial part - gives them play buttons. Brilliantly simple; like all the best ideas.

Downsides? Just a few: the occasional glitch in playback, not being able to leave it playing tweet after tweet like a radio station, and possible exposure to bad prog metal ('Knights of Arabia by Kamelot' should have been a clue in hindsight, mind you), but nothing fatal, and their Get Satisfaction profile says they're working on continuous play.

As for where the music comes from, Grooveshark, the other side of the mashup, looks well worth further investigation in its own right - it's a music-based social network, with a Pandora-ish player, and the option of uploading your own music collection to the cloud for listening on any computer; the last of these could prove very handy (not to mention being a potential USP/POD for the service).

More online listening ideas at lifehacker (and here's the post where I happened upon Twisten).

UPDATE: (27/2/09) Twisten have already sorted the continuous play thing. Excellent stuff.

Monday, 16 February 2009

In other news...

The Sunday Times has decided to corral 100 blogs onto its pages and call them Top - the first fifty are here, the next fifty will be published next week.

(There may well be more to say on the matter, but I haven't read it yet. And besides, isn't the fun in spotting the glaring omissions for yourself?)

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Phishing for greased monkeys

A couple of weeks ago, for approximately 40 minutes, Google's search results could be seen claiming that every site on the internet, including Google itself, 'may harm your computer'. Right now (about 23:30) it also appears to be accusing itself of phishing, but only when I'm using Firefox.

If I click on a link to Google's cached pages, or on 'View as HTML', no matter what the search is for, I get this:

Warning - phishing (web forgery) suspected

The site you are trying to visit has been identified as a forgery, intended to trick you into disclosing financial, personal or other sensitive information.

Suggestions:Or you can continue to at your own risk.

If you believe that this site is not actually a phishing site, you can report an incorrect warning.
Advisory provided byGoogle

However, on Internet Explorer or Chrome, no problems. As for the default IT solution of restarting, no joy there, either. Which leaves one last possibility (that I can think of): disable the Grease Monkey plug-in (not that it should be running any scripts for anyway).

RESULT: Google is no longer accusing itself of phishing. Whether it really was some kind of clash with the Grease Monkey plug-in, however, I have no idea, since re-enabling it hasn't caused the problem to return.

CONCLUSION: Another Google hiccup? Just one of those things? Probably the latter, I suspect - unless anyone else happened to see this? Answers in the usual place...

Friday, 13 February 2009

Spotify: make or break?

In case you haven't already heard about Spotify (here or elsewhere), its main aim is to give you free access to music - it's a sort of CD and piracy replacement service; an infinite jukebox. People compare it to, but where is more about social networking and discovering new music, Spotify is primarily about the music you already like. I have high hopes for it, but as it moves out of the invite-only phase in the UK it's also facing its first major problems: it's suddenly not quite as infinite as it used to be.

As someone who owns more CDs than he knows what to do with anymore and would like some space back (if only to immediately fill it all with books, probably), Spotify is - or could be - ideal for me: it could not only replace much of my CD collection, giving me my space back, and making any future house move a bit easier, but also earn me a few quid selling my CDs on Amazon. It could even replace MP3s, to a small extent; or certainly mitigate the failure of an (un-backed up) hard drive. And when/if it hits mobile phones, it'll be even more useful. But first it has to stick around.

As you can imagine, then, I'm eager to see whether the licensing problems Spotify has been experiencing recently can be resolved - over the last few weeks thousands of tracks have disappeared from its database (some commenters suggest it's more like millions).

Thousands more have been added too, to be fair, and overall I think I've lost only marginally more music than I've gained, after adding stuff from the latest uploads, but that certainly doesn't seem to be the same for everyone. And if users aren't confident that the tracks in their playlists aren't about to disappear, if users don't have plenty of music to choose from, Spotify itself might well disappear: less music = fewer users = less ad revenue, and fewer premium user subscriptions = no Spotify.

But of course so much of this is down to the record companies, rather than Spotify. And that's the truly frustrating thing about tracks disappearing.

Thanks to the internet, music is a worldwide market now, or at least that's how its consumers see things, but too many labels still don't seem to be set up that way. Contracts and licensing and distribution deals are territory, or even country specific. And that seems to have been a large part of the recent problem for Spotify - by way of example, Robyn, a Swedish musician signed to her own independent record label, has her music available to UK Spotify users, but not Swedish ones, according to comments on Spotify's blog. Maybe that's down to an inflexible distribution deal, rather than an idiosyncratic decision on her part, but it still shows that the music industry's set-up needs changing. The infrastructure is out there to easily and cheaply release, publicise and distribute music worldwide - whether through Spotify, downloads, MySpace, blogs, or whatever else - it's just not yet there within the music industry itself it seems.

Ultimately, whether Spotify can untangle the red tape before it's strangled by it all, it's hard to say, but the signs are certainly promising: plenty of media buzz, a willingness to engage with and explain to its users, and plenty of content already on its way back (Warp and Sub Pop anyone?). And while some users will doubtless have been lost with the recent track cull, it seems to be going the right way about recruiting plenty more - not least by keeping streaming and searching pretty quick and glitch-free as the user base increases. So, all in all, I think I can still look forward to owning fewer CDs - I just really hope they aren't extinct before I've sold them all...


Now, for no reason other than that Spotify combines a Scandinavian invention and music, and so does this, here's a stop-motion Lego rave: