I took a three month break from blogging and social media sites so that I could focus 100% on a critical project at work. Strangely enough I didn’t miss the flow of information; I was still able to find interesting links for coffee break time by browing Hackers News. Here’s a break down of my experience from leaving for so long and rejoining it.
Blog traffic went down -26% (vs -12% for the previous period).
Feed subscriptions up 9% (vs 12% for the previous period).
My blog email address is inundated with press releases and the very occassional question about an old post or tool.
My blog comments are a horrible nightmare of spam that I still have yet to wade through. WordPress has an annoying bug that when you click “Mark As Spam” it always returns you to the start. There’s been 20 pages of comments. It’s likely that most are spam.
It makes me wonder how much time a day I was spending on blog maintenance. The time sink in blogging isn’t writing posts; it’s all the related activities.
Surprisingly, I didn’t miss out on much by not having my lips attached to the news firehouse. Some crazy PM is trying to put me in jail with a new Canadian copyright bill that someone needs to question him about how it benefits his constituents. The iPhone is finally available in Canada, and the data plan is almost-but-not-quite liveable. Facebook has a redesign in the works. Xbox has some cool ideas for release next fall.
I’m sure there were plenty of things happening that I could have gotten worked up about, but nothing happened that directly affects my life that I would have found out about on the Internet.
I’ve had a strict policy of only using LinkedIn for people I’ve actually worked/went to university with, and it’s been a good tool for contacting ex-coworkers years later about new job opportunities. Spam free.
I try to keep Facebook to “real life people only”, and that works well for me. I only use it for group emails, and for photo sharing. Spam free once you get rid of those people who invite you to use applications.
I’m oversubscribed still. When you check your RSS feeds once a month, it becomes much more about the people who consistently keep you thinking or providing good information. Of course, information is only useful if it has impact on your life.
We, the information overloaded, collect new information but I wonder how much of it is retained and has lasting impacting on our lives?
I didn’t feel any pain of Twitter downtime because I didn’t log into it. I need to cull my friendslist to make it more useful. But I found Kathy Sierra on twitter and if that’s the real thing then it’s a good sign for twitter having the potential for making me think vs phasing it completely out of my life because of the constant self-promotion.
I still like twitter for chatting with other bloggers that I respect.
Still not sure if I like rooms or not. The Friend Feed hacking community is kicking even harder lately with a ton of new greasemonkey scripts thanks to Hao Chen. It looks like Lou Cypher is getting involved in Friend Feed as well which means even more cool little hacks.
It might be time for me to abandon delicious for something new to use for bookmarking. The future does not look peachy for delicious with Josh leaving Yahoo. Maybe it’s time to look at Google Reader shares as an alternative.
I’m still using it, still finding great music because of it. I do like The Filter for making lastfm-esque playlists of my own music collection.
I’ve been enjoying the summer and having more time for family, friends and non-Internet hobbies like reading, movies, and games. I really appreciate the knowledge I’ve built up with the programming I’ve done. I plan to continue that in that direction: releasing useful free software and delving into creating my own web apps. I want to spend less time participating and more time creating.
One of the nicest things about the Internet is that if you sit on your ass for long enough, someone will code up whatever little side project you’re thinking about starting. In my case, I was interested in finding out general statistics about Friend Feed as a tape measure of how popular certain social bookmarking sites are. Enter Friend Feed Stats. Thank you, lazyweb.
What Is the Most Popular Web Service?
I’ve often said that one of the qualities of the hardcore geeky is that we have needs that sane normal people don’t have. That’s why there are so many web startups focused on RSS when most people don’t have a clue what RSS is — the geeks don’t realize that their need to have a continuous stream of information and never miss an update from a site they are interested in isn’t the way a lot of people use the internet.
One geek itch I’ve been wanting to scratch is to be able to listen to my MP3 collection using the recommendations from Last.FM. I’ve you’ve never heard of Last.FM, it is a music service that lets you listen music as a radio station over the internet. I’ve been using it for a year and a half and I love it; it’s helped me discover so much good music.
I’ve found two ways to automatically build MP3 playlists using online recommendations. The first way uses iTunes replacement Media Monkey and some extensions to connect to Last.FM (thanks TJOHO!) and the second way uses software by a new startup called The Filter (backed by Peter Gabriel).
Last night I finished reading Accelerando by Charles Stross. Like many of the books I read these days, I heard about it from another blogger. It feels like a spiritual sequel to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, John Brunner’s the Shockwave Rider and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan. It is about information overload to the nth degree and too much change in too short of a time.
Accelerando is broken into 9 fragmented stories with decades passing in between them. This is too bad because it was the initial segment, only a few years in the future, that I found most interesting. Our protagonist is hooked up to a portable computing network of software agents that he uses to continually data mine and plug-in to a “river of news”. As he communicates with other people he spawns off parts of his “distributed brain” to research more information and get back to him.
The greatest inventions usually come from seeing the possible connection between two separate things (eg: peanut butter and chocolate). Like in the Shockwave Rider, our protagonist is successful because of his ability to gather and process information is so far beyond an average person’s. Being immersed in the information stream he sees the connections and trends that other’s can’t see.
These connections lead to so many successful ideas, that he can’t possibly execute on them himself – because the time it takes to implement them would take away from the information processing that is his true talent. He makes a career of giving away his ideas and surviving off of the reputation gain and support of his sponsors he’s made so successful. Very much like Doctorow’s concept of whuffie – reputation as currency.
The book progresses to talking about the post-human experience after digitization has reached the point that we can successfully digitally encode human personalities. Post-death society, heads in jars and living bodiless on the internet. There’s a really good bit on how the next major species will be intelligent corporations and artificial spam intelligence. But what really interested me was the initial chapters so close to the beginning 21st century: how do we use technology to deal with information overload?
(You can get a copy of Accelerando for free online – which is very useful because the copy I borrowed from the library was missing the last page – now that’s frustrating)
It’s Getting Harder to Find Information
We’re in the middle of a great revolution where anyone can become a self-publisher. But that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? Anyone can become a self-publisher. The low barrier to entry makes the competition for attention fierce. At some level we’re all on par with the lowliest spammers, trying to compete for other people’s attention. There is so much new content being created all the time at the only way old content stays in the public record is if the Great Google God returns it in a search result.
This is only going to get worse because Google has created a new caste of blogging serfdom. People create content and splash Google ads on it with the hope of that it will do well in Google search results so they can get paid.
There’s many a “business model” that relies completely on Google-Google Search for traffic and Google AdSense for revenue. And there’s an even larger amount of so-called business models that rely almost completely on Google for traffic, even if the money comes in via other means.
I think you know what happens to the money when the traffic stops.
I use the term “business model” above loosely, because a model that is entirely dependent on an outside company, for either traffic or revenue or both, is not really sound. You’re not in charge and you have very little control, because if Google decides to change the rules, you’re out of luck. Based on that, I would argue that relying on Google is not a business at all.
I’d say you work for Google.
From the Teaching Sells e-book
Where are the Smart Filtering Agents?
One of the things I remember clearly about the idea of intelligent agents in the early 90s was how it was going to revolutionize how we consume information. Instead of having to *gasp* pick up a newspaper, autonomous software agents would search the net finding tidbits of information what we were interested in and adapting and learning from how we interact with the results. Sci-fi books like John Varley’s Steel Beach dealt with the relationships between humans and these evolving artificial intelligences.
Take a moment to glance at the Wikipedia page on software agents; it’s quite good.
The 90s hope for intelligent agents has congealed. RSS has gotten us part of the way; now we can pick voices out of the chaos that we allow to push information to us. We can subscribe to alerts on search subjects that interest us. But aside from custom recommendation engines like Netflix and Last.FM there isn’t really a bot out there for finding information for us.
The Future: RSS Filtering
I see the fledgling baby steps of software agents delivering news. There are several sites competing for being able to filter through a list of RSS feeds and recommend the best news items to you.
There’s also the “build your own” filtering agent approach.
And let’s not forget the ability to monitor search terms.
Is the Answer Better Gatekeepers?
Is having an intelligent software agent the right approach or is it better to let humans do the filtering? The past year has seen an incredible rising in using crowdsourcing to decide what is the best information available. This is how digg, reddit, stumbleupon and the delicious popular page find interesting information by using the wisdom of mobs. Unfortunately when the user-base grows too large it becomes watered down to only common denominators.
The other approach is to find human editors to act as your gatekeeper. I’m not talking about hiring your man in Mumbai, but rather niche news sites like Slashdot, BoingBoing and Fark, and to a greater extent using the network of blogs you enjoy to act as your information gate keepers.
The last.FM music service is an amazing tool for finding new music to listen to. What makes it even stronger is its ability to find your “neighbours” – people you don’t know who have similar musical tastes. Listening to your neighbourhood radio is like having a friend who’s a DJ and always pushing new and interesting songs at you.
I don’t know any of these people, but I like their musical tastes.
Maybe instead of software agents we need software that connects us to other people who have similar interests? I read LifeHacker because I know the editors have very similar sensibilities to what I find interesting. Jon Udell shares my same love for information organization and manipulation. Jeff Atwood has perhaps one of the most engaging blogs for general geekery and love of programming, and his twitterstream is always full of interesting links.
The only downside to filtering information is that restricting your input to the people you already agree with creates a reinforcing feedback loop and destroys your patience and your ability to be around people with differing outlooks.