Tag Archives: review

From White House 2 to Betri Reykjavik

In recent Italian elections one party that wanted eDemocracy, but had no real platform installed, won about one third of the votes in the Parliament. So everybody started shouting that they now wanted them to install Liquid Feedback. Mostly people said so, without ever having used Liquid Feedback. While trying to present some alternatives I realised most people did not know of White House 2. One of the most successful, but unknown platform for eDemmocracy. So I wrote the following blog post. I translated here in Italian. Not exactly word by word, but quite precisely. 

White House 2 Logo

It was November 2008 when White House 2 opened up. It was made from Jim Gilliam (@jgilliam); the site was very simple. In a way brilliant: if you were the President of the United States, what would be your priorities?

Participants could insert laws that they wished were approved, and had to order them from the more important to the least important.

The site had a system for automatic research, similar to StackOverflow, so that if you wrote a law that had some words similar to other laws that has already been proposed, he would find you those proposals. So, instead of adding your proposal you could add the already existing proposal.

[Note: if participants can easily search through the existing proposals, they will avoid to rewrite them].

On every proposal the people could write if they agreed with them (and so add them on their list), or if they were against (and I think they could add in the list their opposition to that law), they could also add documents in favor, documents against, comments in favor, comments against. All neatly ordered in two columns, one green and one read. This helped people that would read the proposal get rapidly an idea if they supported or not the proposal. Obviously the site would measure for each proposal how many people favoured it, and how many people opposed it. Not only, but Jim, for each proposal would indicate if the President supported it or not (basing himself on the President public declarations). It would then compile an integrated list of what the people preference were. What people wanted regarding the Economy, regarding Education, …

But what would happen if a proposal was present but was not developed enough?

This is maybe one of the unsolved problems, and maybe unsolvable problems, in eDemocracy. If people can vote for proposals those cannot change in time. If it changes in time you must make everybody re-vote (loosing participation), or you risk that some of them will support on the website a proposal, they they don’t really subscribe to anymore. Wikipedia solves it by keeping the last version, and not letting people vote the pages. On Vilfredo anyone can rewrite anything, but then everybody must re-vote. The maximum of precision, the minimum of usability. On Ideascale (and in general in petition systems) you cannot change proposals. On Liquid Feedback people can suggest changes in the proposals. But then every proposal has an editor (who wrote it first) which has the responsibility, and the power to decide what to accept (this is, by the way, one of the weak points in LF). On Airesis there is a similar system, but slightly more refined: you can propose yourself as an editor for a specific proposal. Probably the perfect system will permit to anyone to rewrite any proposal. And will then let everybody chose the versions of the proposals they want to follow. Something similar to GitHub.  Votorola uses a similar system. (See on this also the presentation Clay Shirky‘s TED presentation). But all this came later; Jim Gilliam, at the time, came up with the following system: you could propose a new version of a proposal. This was then subject to the (automatic) evaluation of the people that have participated in the previous version (voting pro or against). If within 48 hours at least 70% of the people who participated accepted the new version, all the ones that did not answer the mail would be moved to the new version anyway. Who said no would remain with the old version.

“people can create a new priority, and then they can ‘propose an acquisition’ of an existing priority, either the endorsers/opposers or both.  and state a reason why.   then it goes up for a vote to all the people who are endorsing/opposing the priority to be acquired.  they get an email with the reason the person suggested the acquisition, and are asked to vote yes or no within 48 hours.  if they vote yes, they are automatically transferred over to endorsing the new priority, and if they vote no, they stay on the existing priority.  and then for the people who don’t vote within 48 hours, if more than 70% of people supported the acquisition, all the non-voters will be transferred over automatically.   otherwise they remain there.  anyone who voted no, still stays on the existing one no matter what.” [Jim Gilliam, personal email 5 March 2009]

The result was a fast and dirty, system, that would work well, but at the cost of mathematical precision. Surely there were people that in this way would find themselves supporting proposals they no longer agreed with. But just in part. But the system worked, and if you accepted the point of view that you were not supporting a dead law, but an alive proposal, you could also accept that the result was not always what you wanted.

Then Jim introduces an economical system (called “political capital”, pc). Many of you know the Karma system: if you do something good (write a proposal that wins approvals from other people, for example) you win points. The more points you have, the more the system gives you power. This is a system that works, but tends to create “super users”. Both Slashdot and StackOverflow use it (even though in very different ways). In StackOverflow the points are gained helping other people programming, and can then be added to your curriculum, when you are looking for work.  In WhiteHouse 2 there was a point system, but the points were not just gained, they also could be spent! Inviting a person to join the site would give you so many points. Mutating a proposal would cost you others. But if a proposal was accepted (the acquisition agreed on), you would gain back your points, and more. You could spend points advertising law proposals on the side of the website. A very interesting system, which more importantly, worked.

The great problem (in my view) was that the website did not have a solid mathematical base. Why would the proposal of a person who has invited other people have more visibility than the proposal of a person that would just enter to write that one proposal. Was it really 70% the threshold that represented the limit that would make sure that a proposal would substitute an other?

But it worked, and it worked so well that Jim explained to me how at first the number of proposals started growing in an exponential way. But eventually, even if the number of participants kept on growing, the number of proposals stabilised itself. They have mapped (more or less) the space of all the laws that Americans wanted. And for each law they had a measure of how many where in favour and how many against. Just for this description White House 2 was an exceptionally successful instrument.

It was also its peak moment. Jim decided to make it open source, to permit to other people to open similar pages for other groups. And since each group was seen as a nation, the new site was called: Nation Builder. He then abandoned the project [in a recent tweet, he explained how Nation Builder was too complicated to be installed, and needed to be offered as a Software as a Service product]. He closed White House 2 (which, he explains, was taking too much time managing the community), and he used his experience to build an instrument to permit to people to manage communities, put them in touch with activists, and generally help them handling them. For a political group using it, the software would help them getting elected, for example. Also this instrument was called Nation Builder (how confusing).

For the people of the Movimento 5 Stelle, Nation Builder is a system similar to meet up, but centralised. That will permit a continuous exchange of information between the center and the periphery. Something similar to Beppe Grillo’s site on steroid, but where the aim is to get your representatives elected. The site telling you who to contact, and how to keep an ear on what the supporters are saying. If you have read the l’articolo from the Guardian, Beppe Grillo is judged as an old style leader. This because, although he uses the internet to reach out to the people, he does not build up a dialogue (for example if you have ever written to Grillo, or at his staff, no one will answer you). Nation Builder, SaaS, will build this missing dialogue (for about 20 $ a month, I gather). But let’s go back to White House 2. The fact that Jim turned off the server was not the end of the code. As it often happens to valuable projects, it was recovered.

In the meantime the crises in Iceland happened, and they had new elections. Those were won by a small, new, party. (This was told me by Robert, one of the programmers working with this party). A party everybody treated as a joke, until using some “strange program from the internet” were able to mobilise so many people to win elections. Once the elections were won the party asked its programmers: “ok, now let us know what the icelandic people want us to do”. This group of programmers, in particular Róbert Viðar Bjarnason (let’s call him Robert, the one I mentioned before), recovered the old nation builder (now deprecated), forked it calling it Open Active Democracy. Then started working on it, he also added some of his ideas (I am not sure of the details, this part was told me by Smári McCarthy -icelandic, one of the designers of Liquid Democracy-) and an instrument to permit to anyone to help in the site translations. Then he used the result to make a series of websites.

The programmers made a first website to permit to the population to express what they wanted from Iceland (http://www.skuggaborg.is/ defunct), then a second website to decide what to do in Reykjavik: Betri Reykjavik.

Logo of Betri Reykjavik

Then they substituted skuggaborg with Betra Island. And by now we have gathered that Betri and Betra means Better. With those sites their organisation (Citizen Foundation) won the EU eDemocracy Award. Then they tried to jump out of their nation and opened Your Priorities. A meta-website, divided in many sub-websites. One for each nation. And for each nation people could participate. The site is still there, but so far participation is still missing, showing that it is not enough to have the right software. It is also needed a local structure that connects it with the territory. (But we could use the italian sub-site, as we did for the meet-up).

I will add that with Derek (friend and collaborator with which we developed Vilfredo), we tried to instal a website of Open Active Democracy. At the time we saw this as the best software available.  We could not do it. Not only we were not Ruby programmers, but also the code has changed in time without being reinstalled each time. The result was that without the original database it would not work. Yet, a good programmer, with some time could make it.

Also there is sitill the italian version of Your Priorities. And always the possibility to contact Robert and his team.

And this is the story of White House 2.

How Twitter, Google, Wolfram|Alpha and WIkipedia are not competing at all

It seems to me that Twitter, Google, and Wolfram|Alpha, are really not competing at all, but are instead providing complementary services. I would go farther by adding wikipedia (and blogs?), and suggest that the 4 services really represent the digestive process of our information society. From the first Churning to the Backbone

Wolfram|Alpha represents the deeper part. It includes only what is really known inside out from our society. What has been fully digested. FOr something to be in W|A it needs to be known, semantically known, beyond doubt. And notice that I am here speaking about a deeper Wolfram|Alpha than what you have seen here. The Wolfram|Alpha as it should be, once we learned hot to interrogate it proprtly, and once it has epanded with the rest of the knowledge we have.

At a higher level we have wikipedia. Wikipedia permits much more stuff to be present. You have actors, and theories, and stories, and a lot of other stuff.  You also have discussions and point of views. In short you have a lot of stuff that is not being digested anymore, but is also not the bones of our society. It is more like the muscles. The limit of Wikipedia is that since it does not allow for new research, by definition it is limited to what has already been discovered. Although not in a definite way as in Wolfram|Alpha.

And then we have Google. Google is really part of the digestive process. It has new stuff coming in every few days. But is is also less clear. You need to work to get to the results using google. But you can also find new threads. Things that are still not known. There is real food here, waiting to be digested.

And Twitter is the more superficial tool. Twitter has second to second update. It has multiple links in different forms that point to the same resource. Information is not organised in any way, shape or form. But it is information nevertheless. It represents the edge of the knowledge wave of our civilization. It is deeply alive, unpredictable, full of possibilities. You never know how it will react. It is the most alive part of the constant discussion that is going on in our civilisation. It is the civilisation equivalent to the constant chit chat that is going on in our head. Although it has memory, it is not really good with it. Anything that is in Twitter can be true, can be false, can be anything in the middle, neither or both at the same time.

If you are an alive and creative mind that wants to participate in the constant flow of creation of this society you will probably end up interacting in twitter in some ways. But if you want your creation to be grounded in reality you need to use the other levels as well. They are really not competing.

And Blogs? Blogs are ways with which we store personal longer stories. The untwittable (as Chris Anderson from TED called his). They work between the google level and the Twitter level. Letting information move between those levels, and letting complex information be churned before is ready to go deeper. Similarly you have journal articles (and books) working to bring the information to the wikipedia level.

Timesonline censors unconfortable comments

As many of you know, I eat in Primal Diet from a long time. It is at least 3 or 4 years. I was very ill when I started, and feel much better now. I often look around to see when new articles appear on this diet, and I was very happy to read that a mainstream newspaper was writing an article about it. Too bad that the title was not very flattering: “The Primal diet: the silliest diet ever?“. The article was even worse. The worse set of factual errors, that newspaper has ever written. According to this article being in primal diet means to eat for 95% meat, and for most of it “high meat”. High meat is well off meat. Meat that has been kept in the fridge for days, weeks or months. I personally have never eaten high meat. But also people in primal diet who do eat high meat, do that very sparingly. Maybe a little bit, every 2 to 6 months to promote the response from the body. (FYI, this part of the diet is inspired by how some tribal people do eat some eat in their original diet. Confront on this Vilhjalmur Stefansson report on Eskimo diets).

After reading the article, I wrote a comment saying that the article contained factual errors, that I was on primal diet from a few years, and that it is simply false that people in primal diet eat so much high meat.

Guess what? The comment never passed the revision process. My comment was just before the comment of “Chris, Neath”. Yet it never appeared.

I find this behaviour from an online very dishonest, and feel the need to point it out.
We should all watch out from newspapers that censor informations that challenge them.

Pietro

Mindmanager for Mac is a joke

I have been using mindmaps for quite some time. Wherever I go I am known as the mindmap person. My whole website was build using MindManager’s export-to-HTML function. But those where the times of Windows. Now I have moved to Mac and I have left behind MindManager. Now I use Freemind, and iMindMap.

I recently expressed my choise pubblicly on a twitter:

@gtdguy with all respect mindmanager sucks on mac. There I use freemind (4 speed) and imindmap (4 beauty). But neither makes HTML maps good!

I was then contacted by Michael Deutch (“Mindjet Chief Evangelist”), who asked me:

@pietrosperoni Buon giorno Pietro. What features / capabilities are you looking for in MindManager Mac? Thanks for sharing :)

The answer was too long for a tweet, so instead I decided to blog it, and tweet a link to it.

Dear Michael, thank you for your question.
I was undeniably in a great desire to share what I think about the way mindjet was treating Mac.
I use to use Minmanager many years ago, when I had Mindmanager 2002. Now Mindmanager for Windows runs version 8, Mindmanager for Mac runs version 7, and version 7 for Mac is sensibly worse than version 2002 for windows, from 6 years ago. As you can imagine I am pretty pissed off, and you might have to make a huge work to evangelize me.

Nowhere is the discussion about Mindjet product for Mac more focused than on the Mindjet Forums themselves. So please let us go there. In particular in the MindManager 7 for Mac. And to really pinpoint the issue, I would like you to read the Board: Is Mindjet really serious about the Mac?. It is 45 posts, 16 months long, so far, and is the one place where we frustrated mindmanager users, who were used to have a Windows version vent our anger.
Please read it, I’ll wait. (By the way, the authors “psdf” is me)

The shortest answer to your question is that we need MindManager for Mac to be as good as the Windows version for us to take it seriously.

We need the same functionalities as windows, and we need them at about the same time. A few weeks later is acceptable. Few months is bad, and years after is enough for us not to use your software. But not to implement them, is unacceptable for us to even considering hearing someone speak good about mindmanager without feeling an incredible urge to chip in our experience. Especially from a company that pretends to be Mac friendly.

I personally need to be able to upload my old .mm files, from mindmamager 2002. I need to have an export to html with embedded in the image links as there is in all other versions of mindmanager. I am particularly angry with Mindjet because that functionality, the possibility to have links embedded in the map, is only present from mindjet products. This makes me suspects that you might have patented this functionality, effectively denying any Mac user from being able to have it. I will actually have to restructure my whole website because of this. And this because I refuse to run a Windows system just for a program.

I have deleted MindManager 7 for Mac long time ago so it is now too late for me to make a side by side comparison. Plus I don’t have a Windows computer with a MindManager program running inside. But please, I plead you, you are in Mindjet headquarters, take a laptop with a Windows MindManager 8 on the one side, another with a Mac MindManager 7 on the other and run them side by side. And then, in all honestly, tell me if you are not disgusted by the Mac version. It is a stub. Now run it against MindManager 7 for Windows and see if you do not feel the same way. Run it against MindManager 2002 (I am sure you must still have a copy somwhere), and tell me if you don’t still feel the same way. Run it against freemind. Run it against any other mindmap program for Mac and tell me if you do not feel just the same way: Mindmanager for Mac is a joke!.

On top of all this, it was mindnumbing to see how bad were Mac users being treated on your own website, with mindjet ignoring Mac users requests, pleads, protests; Mindjet employers do not post in the Mindjet Mac forum anymore. Worse than that, if Mac users share with other users outside their forum what is going on they get deleted:

Hi All,
Well, I actually posted on the PC MM7 forum about the poor service that Mindjet have given the MAC community and how in a world of migration from PC to MAC that this is a bad thing for IT managers. It got deleted. Perhaps by posting here I am risking being banned from the the forum altogether but I wanted people to know that things are not all well at Mindjet (I own 3 mindjet licenses + JV Gannt etc) . However, I encourage you to do the same and not lie down and take the fact that Mindjet have taken your money and ran. Perhaps this mail will be deleted before anyone sees it. Poor, disrespectful service to a long time customer.

We are now using that forum to share tips about competing softwares. What else can we do?
We tried to mail for support, and the answer we got were:

Thank you for your interest in MindManager. At this time, we do not have an exact date in place for an upgrade for Mac users. Please check our website http://www.mindjet.com for updates.

Best regards,
Susan

and

Sent: Saturday , August 30, 2008 05:21 am PDT (GMT-07:00)
Subject: What about the new MAC version?

Do you have a general date? Like 4th Quarter 08?? I won’t hold you to it.

September 3, 2008 11:08:19 AM EDT
Update for Case #59656 – “What about the new MAC version?”

Unfortunately, we do not.

Best regards,
Susan

Susan Kozak
Customer Service Representative

Mindmanager is being too well treated from Apple. In Apple shops MindManager for Mac is being sold and presented in nice views on stands. That’s where I bought mine, that’s where I brought it back (with my feedbacks) the next day. Eventually we are going to get your products out of Apple stores. It just does not belong there.

Now, the number of Mac users is growing. I come from academia, and I can assure you that almost everybody there is using Mac.

Can Mindjet really afford to have this growing black hole of disaffectionate users grow and erode your base?
I don’t think so.

Best Regards,
Pietro

Pietro Speroni
Ex Mindjet costumer, Ex MindManager user.

P.S. if by any chance the pages in the mindjet forum got deleted (you know, thos damn hackers are everywhere), just mail me, and I will send you a copy of them.

ADDENDUM:
Michael’s Reply:

@pietrosperoni Thanks, will share your feedback with our team! Lots of win users migrated to mac last year!

Ryanair Sucks

I am just back from the airoport.
I bought some time ago a return ticket with Rayanair to Rome, going on the 4th August, and return on the 19th of August. Well, long story short I needed to change my going there ticket. I am no longer going with Ryanair to Rome, but to Athens, passing some time in Greece and coming back still with Ryanair on the 19th.

So I tried to move my first flight to another date. I know for sure I will go to Rome for Christmas, so moving it to the 21st of December seemed the best thing. You can’t actually do it online because the system would not accept a going ticket (21st of December) later than the return part of the ticket. I thought, fine, it sounds like something that really needs an operator.

And the operator just confirmed me the same thing. We can’t move a going part of a flight later. We can’t twist a flight around making what was the coming back the going, and adding a flight after while deleting the first.

Those things make me boil, it sounds like machines are in charge.

The crazy thing is that if I had bought the ticket as two separated flights I would have paid the same and had the possibility to change them. Crazy, eh! And ths limit is a total nonsense imposed by some wanker programmer, who imposes on other useless limitations.

So the first take away message is: when you buy a ticket alway buy each separate flight as a stand alone flight, and never buy two tickets as a return ticket. You never know when you might need to change the ticket.

As I was discussing the issue with my collegues, I was further told that when you buy a return ticket you still pay double taxes on each credit card transaction, so you are really paying the same. And then I was told other stories of how Ryanair handled everybody much worse. From mother who are required to submit the babies trolley as a “outsized” package. While in all other companies they can go with the trolley up to the plane and are then uploaded in a place where they can easily taken back. How then they have to walk with baby, handluggage and baby carseat to the plane (which in Dublin is about 1 km, sweet). And so on.

So generally the agreed wisdom from the office is:
never fly with Ryanair when you have a choise, and if you don’t have a choise wonder if your flight is really necessary.

Education 2.0. The fully decentralized university

Some time ago I remember reading a comment.

La Repubblica, one of the first italian newspaper, holds a big internet website. As part of their initiative they have La Repubblica TV, which is a sort of television, just recorded for the net. You can download it when you want, and see it at your leisure. It includes everything: advertisments, opening music, interviews, etc.
Well the comment was discussing how that internet TV is quite dumb. Not really using up the powers of the net.

It took me as a really smart comment, and later I thought that also the lessons from the universities who are being recorded and released are still part of the old way of doing things.

And today I saw something which I thought might be part of the new way: The lessons on history from Lars Brownworth,
12 Byzantine Rulers.

12 Byzantine Rulers

Lars is a professor at a private high school, and if I got it right not even a professor in history, but history is his passion, and so in his free time he started investigating the middle ages. His lessons in pocast format really had success, and now his podcast is among the most followed on the net.

Why do I think his podcast is part of the new wave of education, and not part of the old wave:

  • The lessons are not produced by a University. He did was not advertised as being an expert, and yet his succes came because of how interesting they were. How often have we followed a lesson at the university (or at high school), thinking the professor was not that good, and probably some students were actually better. Universities need to cover every class. But with podcasts there was no class to cover. He was an expert in something, he spoke about that.
  • There is a great desire for real high quality content. We all recognise the power of the internet, but experts that blog about their area of expertise are still few. It is easy to find blogs and discussion forums where many amateurs discuss a topic. We are moving toward a time where the real experts start to use the internet to share about their topic. This will take away space to the amatour (it was nice to be the expert in a Taoistic forum, but am I really an expert), but real knowledge will start to flow more easily.
  • It uses podcasts, and website. Cheap but high quality technology. Available to everybody
  • His expertise was so great that he manage to induce an interest even in people who had no natural interest for the subject

And the conclusion of all this is that more and more material will start to flow. Up to now we have mostly seen amatours discussing subjects. While the experts would write books in the old fashion way, copyright them, and make themselves unavailable. Essentially putting a higher and higher distance between them and their public. Now an expert can teach, and if he is really good he can share not only his knowledge, but his burning passion too. The tools are available, and soon the best lessons on a subject will not be from the universities, but directly from the expert website. At that point universities will start pointing to them, and this will induce a great change in society. Maybe we might even reach the point that some website will offer lessons worth a certain number of credits. A fully decentralized university.

Book Review: The Way of the Superior Man

The way of the superior man

Rating: 4 out of 5

Author: David Deida

Year: 1997

Publisher: Sounds True

Price: $17.95

ISBN: 1591792576

Lately I have been reading the way of the superior man. Forget about Nietsche, here the reference, although never made explicit, is to the superior man in the I-Ching. “this is the situation, so the superior man does so and so”. The book is extreemly interesting, and brings on the series of books on male issues, that I have been reading in the last ten years. Starting with Robert Bly’s Iron John, to King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, and then Fire in the Belly and finally Biddulph’s book manhood. Is also nice for one time to have a book about man that does not refer to christianity but to taoism.
The book is structured in 51 small chapters. Each giving one concept, one idea. You can’t stop thinking that the author maybe wanted them to be 64, and then link each to one of the iching hexagrams. But then fell short of things to say. :)

The core idea is that, while yes it is possible for man and woman to be very similar, and this helps in bringing peace to society, it also comes with a huge price. The lack of desire for each other. In Italy for example, there is a growing literature on sexual anorexia. Man (and woman) who between the age of 25 and 35 just decide that they don’t actually need sex in their life. And is more the problem tha it brings than the joy. But not only on this, the idea that old couples don’t have sex anymore, is quite common, and generally considered to be one of the causes why man might flip in society.

Well, the idea in this book, is that while is possible to depolarize each other, is also possible to polarize each other. To take different roles. In fact, the book claims and I would agree with it, those roles do come quite natural, once we take the extra step of relieving ourselves of the burden of the wishful thinking of how nice would life be, if men and women could have the same role, while keeping desire for each other.

Interesting the idea is that those roles not only come natural, but are seen as the natural frame in which to interpret his desire for control, her (only) apparently illogical actions. His role is then to guide, and her role is to test him.

After ending the book, I went back to it, and reorganised it through a mindmap, which is available from my maps page. If you are reading the book you might find interesting my reorganization of the chapters. But don’t think that you can get the essence of the book just from my mindmap. Way too many things are missing.

Is also very interesting the idea that the primary focus for a man (with a masculine core, i.e. 80% of man) is his work and his spiritual quest. Relationships come only after. And instead of seeing this as a problem, this is seem as conditio sine qua non for a good relationships. While for the woman (with a feminine core, 80% circa) relationships are the main focus. Yet, according to this book, women might ask their man to be more present in the relationship, but actually they want a man who is heavily focused on his passion. A man who stays at home, and needs mommy, not only is not sexual, but sickens them. How very true!

So looking back at my life, and at different relationships I had, I remember one in particular in which I was very focused on my meditation, and she would follow me. I was for this heavily criticized, but actually the relationship was going well, and the polarity was creating a huge desire for each other.

So, another book under the list:”things I should have known when I was 16, but I am happy eventually I found them out”.

Polyphasic Easter

It is 2.30 am and I just woke up. I went to bed at 2.05 am.

I am not crazy. Not yet, not anymore, at least not more than usual. I am just trying a new sleeping technique. It is called polyphasic sleep. I actually wanted to become polyamorouse, but I got confused during the googling process, and now it is too late.

What follows is a brief intro to polyphasic sleep for the general bear audience. Continue reading

The new project: TagBay. Tagging e-Bay

It is now the time to present the next project we have been working to: TagBay. And I say ‘we’, because is this project I am not alone. I did it with a friend of mine, Derek, who accepted, very patiently to code, some of the idea I have been tinkering around in the last year or so. I am speaking about how tags, and tag clouds, and distance between tags, and so on.
So, in brief we made a web site to tag material that is being sold on e-Bay. Anybody can tag any object that is being sold. Not only can any object be tagged but you can tag sellers, too (oh, we are not responsible for offensive tags, eh!).
Tags on objects can be made private or public, and you can also search among your tags, among everybody else tags, and eventually (when we code it) it will be possible to search among the tags of another user, like in del.icio.us.

Now that the summary for the people who have no time has been done, let’s try to explain the idea in the details for those who have a bit more time.

Tag Bay: Tagging e-Bay

Pages:
On TagBay, right now, there are 3 type of pages: e-Bay Search Pages, TagBay Tag Search Page, TagBayUser Tag Search Page, Item Page, and Seller Page.

  • Search Page: It is possible from inside Tag Bay to make searches on e-Bay on specific keywords. The user can then add tags to each object that came out, store the tags added all at once, or store the tags of a single object. The same thing can be done in the Tag Search Page
  • TagBay Tag Search Page: In this page the user gets all the results for a single tag that someone have used. Nothing fancy (for now). Items where the tag only appears as a private tag will not appear here.
  • TagBayUser Tag Search Page: In this page the user gets all the results for a single tag that he have used. If the user is logged in and is looking at his own tags, also the items tagged in a private way will appear.
  • Item Page: Each object has its specific page. From such page any user can see what are the public tags that other users have used for that page. Also they can define their personal tags for that object, if their tags are going to be private, and the tags of the seller.
  • Seller Page: And then there is the seller page, and in the seller page any user can tag any seller. The use of tag for sellers is still limited, but will be increased in the future.

The natural use of the site

  • For a seller or for a shop A seller might want to use the site to tag all the objects that he is selling, giving for each object all the tags related. Thus increasing the possibility for it to be found. We suggest to list the tag in the order of importance, as soon we are going to use the order consider the importance in the search page.
    Also, if a person wants to make a cool list of objects, they can tag exactly those objects, with a tag they never used, and then link to the page in their directory of this tag. Thus creating on the spot, their lists. Also sellers will want to tag their objects, and people making searches will tag objects to make lists of objects they want to follow, before jumping on a transaction. We think there is more than enough material to generate interesting behaviour. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same emergent behaviour that we are used to see. After all we are just exploring the possibilities of social folksonomy.
  • A shop To the possibilities before, a shop who is selling on ebay might be interested to make sure that the shop itself (remember that you can tag sellers, and not only shops) have all the tags related to the merchandise that they are selling
  • Someone buying Our suggestion for someone who wishes to buy, on e-Bay, would be to first look under the tag search, to see if there is anybody who has already tagged any object that they are interested in. This does not necessarily be someone else who is buying, but also someone who is selling. Then tag the objects they are interested themselves, to have it in their own list of objects. Then they could go to the search e-Bay page with the necessary keywords, and add the chosen tag to all the objects interesting. At that point a first selection have been made, and all the possible objects have been tagged. At this point, he could choose one or those objects, change the tags to private, and start betting on it.
  • Someone suggesting And finally if someone is just trying to suggest some possible objects, he could search e-Bay for those objects, tag them with a unique tag and present the url of the list to whoever is interested.

There are many other ways to use TagBay. In a sense TagBay is a toy, and not a game. And as every good toy it can be used for many different games. We suggest here only some of them. Also TagBay itself is rapidly evolving. We have tons of stuff we are interested in including, and if you have been reading my blog, you know how my problem is always to find people to code my ideas, more than to find them. And this is why I am so happy for Derek work!

Difficulties that we found:
There were a number of issues that came out when we started developing this program.

  1. Public vs private tags:
    Why would someone tag an object if they are interested to buy it? After all aren’t they making it easier to others to find it, by adding those tags?
    This was a serious doubt that we had, and finally we decided to give the possibility to users to tag objects privately. Yet there have to be a balance between private tags and public tags, as public tags are necessary to generate the emerging folksonomy that we wish to use. So we decided for a compromise: public tags can be done from the search page, but private tags requite you to go to the specific object page. In our view (but we are ready to be proven wrong) someone would go to the search page, tag all the entries where he might be interested. Then chose one, and tag that one in a private way.
  2. Limitations due to the temporary nature of the objects
    Considering that most object exist on ebay only for few weeks before being sold, wouldn’t this be not enough time to make a tag cloud and let all cool emergent properties that folksonomy induces, appear?
    Maybe, but sellers also can tag the objects they are selling, thus giving a fresh start to all the objects. Also side by side to tagging object we are giving the possibility to tag sellers. Which eventually should survive each transaction and build up an interesting tag cloud.
  3. I spoke about sellers tagging their own objects, but wouldn’t this invite people to spam your site? After all, wouldn’t it be much better for a seller to add many tags to be present in many searches?
    Ah ha! You think tag clouds can be spammed. This is false. Tag clouds cannot be spammed, and no one understand this. And we shall use this site to prove it. We have nothing against spammers, they are absolutely welcome in our site and spam it as much as they feel. Add all the tags they want to each object they sell. It will make ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE in the search page. Tag clouds are unspammable. And our engine will use tag clouds as its base. Everybody else uses tag sets. And this makes them easily spammable. So, no we don’t fear spammers. In fact we hope that spammers will come to our TagBay site. They are just people trying to sell their stuff, we are trying to make sellers meet with buyers. Wouldn’t be bad to single out spammers just because they are spammers.

TagBay is obviously still in beta, and there are many things that need to be coded. If you have any idea on how to make it better please do not hesitate to contact me. If you want to make a difference on what the final product will be now is the time to do it. Also all new suggestion implemented should be listed in a special page with links to the original suggester home page.

Reading your mate passwords in Firefox

So, here is the quest. You need to discover the password of your best friend. Although this might seem morally reprehensible you are moved by nobel and deep reasons. You need to check in his email and discover if he is having an affair with your wife. You can’t just confront him if you are not sure. Nor can you run the risk of confronting your wife before you are sure.

We will assume that you have access to your best mate computer. After all he trusts you, right. And with reasons, you would never do anything against him… normally. But this time it’s different. If he has been seducing your angel, he deserves the worse.

We will also assume that your best friend is really into security, and since firefox is a more secure system, he uses firefox. Daily. And as a final assumption we shall assume that since he keeps his mail on the web, and accesses it through the browser. Let’s assume it’s on Yahoo.

This is what you need to do:

  1. Get his computer, in a moment he is out for launch (with your lady, bastard!), and lock yourself for the work. You will need privacy for this. If you are confronted you can always say Continue reading

Review: Smarking

Some of you might remember my rant, once del.icio.us was bought. And some others, who where with me from before might remember the entries I wrote on tag clouds. Some time later I was contacted from an Italian developer, Fabio Vescarelli, who asked me some help in developing some algorithms to find the distance between users in a del.icio.us like program. We had an exchange of email first , and we met in chat some other time. He was building a del.icio.us clone, Smarking. But with some interesting differences. Continue reading

New dad in town

I made it! After ages of mobbing, veiled suggestions, and unveiled blackmail, I manage to convince my father to make himself a blog. Not just a blog: a wordpress blog, with Creative Common Copyright, threaded comments, feeds, trackback, multiple categories, comment subscriptions and everything else a serious weblogger ought to have to survive in the jungle of the blogsphere.

The guy, a.k.a. Kiddo especially among female collegues (…don’t get me started…), has a certain experience in publishing. He worked for 40 years as a journalist, director of newspaper, and professor of journalist students. Not happy of that he was the ISTAT (Italian Statistical Institute) public relation director, and even worked for *gasp* the World Bank. I know, I know: the black sheep of the family! As you can imagine we don’t always agree on everything, especially if we speak about world economy. Still it makes for some interesting dinner topics.
To be fully honest he already has a weblog, an italian blog, simple and cranky like a home made car. Now he has the technological equivalent of a Ferrari. Yet he intends to write on this in English. Tremble, Brits!
By the way, he too has some dangerous ideas, one of them being that politicians are not worse than normal human being. Not worse than bloggers?! Could you believe that? Now that would be quite revolutionary! Makes you feel humble to think you might not be better than the majority of politicians. But his favorite quote is from Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”, and I have to admit his article where often understandable and comprehensive, also when treating complex topics, chapeau.
So, welcome to the blogsphere, dad,

will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along
Now, lets the show go on.

P.S. I am testing Structured Blogging, so if you see the same post appear more times, it’s normal.

New Dad in Town

Donato Speroni

Age: 64

Job: Retired, at Home

Blog: People and Figures

Blog: Numeri e Persone

Profile: The guy, a.k.a. Kiddo especially among female collegues (…don’t get me started…), has a certain experience in publishing. He worked for 40 years as a journalist, director of newspaper, and professor of journalist students. Not happy of that he was the ISTAT (Italian Statistical Institute) public relation director, and even worked for *gasp* the World Bank. I know, I know: the black sheep of the family! As you can imagine we don’t always agree on everything, especially if we speak about world economy. Still it makes for some interesting dinner topics.

Contributions: By the way, he too has some dangerous ideas, one of them being that politicians are not worse than normal human being. Not worse than bloggers?! Could you believe that? Now that would be quite revolutionary! Makes you feel humble to think you might not be better than the majority of politicians. But his favorite quote is from Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”, and I have to admit his article where often understandable and comprehensive, also when treating complex topics, chapeau.

Quote: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”

– Albert Einstein

Wish list: I know he would like a bigger sailing boat. But don’t tell him I told you.

Favourite musicians: Roberto Vecchioni, Giorgio Gaber, and other italian singers

Yahoo’s delicious meal!

I wanted to start this entry congratulating with Joshua for the deal. But I won’t.
Tha facts: the web site delicious have been sold to Yahoo!.

I personally don’t dislike Yahoo. I positively hate them. For having eaten and raped startup websites, one after the other. For being totally obscure in terms of contact with the public. For refusing to answer e-mails. For being so big that they can just claim: “we are too big to answer your e-mails”. We can ignore you, and trample on you; we will not even notice. I have something personal with them from the moment they deleted my web page back in 2003; and with it all the material inside; which included some preprints of academic papers I wrote; some of them I had in single copy. I hate yahoo because they don’t get what is the web2.0 and they try hard to copy it. And when they fail in copying it, they try to buy it. As if you could buy a community. As if you could own a community. As if you could buy a language and the agreement to keep the data open.

So maybe I should congratulate with Joshua for having sold something which had no price for some real and tangible money. But I still will not. Because delicious was not only a community. It was also an experiment. A place for us geeks to meet and discuss. A place where we were changing the web. Yes WE were changing the web through our ideas. And Joshua was good in picking the best ideas. Inviting us to give more. Now do you really think this will continue under Yahoo!’s reign? Forget it! At least for my part.

But this is not the reason why I shall not congratulate with Joshua. No I shall not congratulate with him because he could have made it. Because delicious was clearly, and recognised, the best bookmarking service on the web. And with the whole community behind giving suggestion it was prosperous and growing. Because people have pleaded him to start charging, or put advertisments, or do something, but let us pay for it. Because we knew. We knew he could not possibly pay off it all by himself. And we were happy to join in. We were happy to pay. How many services are you aware of where the costumers ask to pay for them? Few indeed!

Of all the people who have commented the action I feel the person who better captures my feelings is Ronald Johnson, who comments:

Some lessons to learn here:

  1. Never trust a startup service to store your important data no matter how the owner seems honest to you. Sooner or later he/she will run away with the money and YOUR data.
  2. Never trust a corporate entity to continue storing your important data. Now that they stole your data, you are subjected to the user-specific ads and they abuse you no matter how strong you cry.
  3. Never act like a fanboy on services you don’t trust. Instead, invest your time and knowledge on open source projects to ensure your efforts are never sold to third party evils.

I have to add, one of the thing I found most disturbing was the form whith which Joshua announced it. In evidence the words that I found most disturbing:

We’re proud to announce that del.icio.us has joined the Yahoo! family. Together we’ll continue to improve how people discover, remember and share on the Internet, with a big emphasis on the power of community. We’re excited to be working with the Yahoo! Search team – they definitely get social systems and their potential to change the web. (We’re also excited to be joining our fraternal twin Flickr!)

We want to thank everyone who has helped us along the way – our employees, our great investors and advisors, and especially our users. We still want to get your feedback, and we look forward to bringing you new features and more servers in the future.

I look forward to continuing my vision of social and community memory, and taking it to the next level with the del.icio.us community and Yahoo!

The post stinks of corporate declaration, and has already signed the destiny of delicious as just another piece in the yahoo puzzle. A more honest post would have spoken of the money that was passed. How they made an offer that could not be refused. Of the risks of the passage. It would still make people upset, but we might have felt that it was coming from Joshua and not through Joshua, from the Yahoo P.R. office.

All this calls for some actions, for I really don’t want to support Yahoo; and if all I can do is passive resistance, then that’s what I shall do!

  1. I shall look for a good alternative to Yahoo, ehm, I mean del.icio.us. The folks at slashdot suggest Simpy.
  2. I want to look better at microformats, and in particular at rel-tag. It might be possible to install a small bookmarking service on site, and then have it send standard info to the community at large. In this way I would not be vulnerable anymore to the next Yahoo! acquisition.
  3. While I am there I should also look for ways to get out of Flickr (who has been acquire by Y! too). Don’t miss the wonderful description of the mess Yahoo is doing with the Flickr signup page. There I also heard that 23hq might be a good alternative. Still I would prefer something on site that speaks a common language.
  4. I have to decide what to do with the Delicious Mind Map Maker. You see, I really don’t want to support Yahoo. Not even indirectly. So I am tempted to take it offline. But if I find a better service, and it is bound to be there now that other geeks will start migrating to come out of the belly of the beast, I might just modify it to sustain this other service. Nothing have been decided yet.
  5. And then I might instead develop my own service or help someone else develop their service, using the tagclouds ideas I spoke about early.
  6. And last but not least, there is the possibility that I might develop the famous search utility I have been speaking about. Up to now, apart the constraints in time, what really stopped me where ethical reasons. Joshua asked people not to screenscrape delicious, so I felt I would abide by his request. I surely did not want to tax the servers of a poor hacker. But now the ‘poor’ hacker have sold the golden eggs’ hen, and walked away with tons of cash. And I am sure Yahoo will not even notice if I start screenscraping them. At least until they start putting all sorts of advertisments which might make it too hard to do. Hmm, active resistance might have some attraction!

So I probably should congratulate with Joshua. He sold a bunch of quite simple and useless code to Yahoo. He prospected them the possibility to have a great and creative community. Now all he has to do is walk away with the cash, start a delicious clone and we will all be more than happy to join him in the new adventure. Hell! We will not even ask for our part of the booty. Although we might ask for a dinner in a good restaurant.
And I think that’s just fair.

ADDENDUM:
After reading all the comments on slashdot I found a link to a page with most bookmarking services compared. It is a bit old, so not totally updated. But yet it gives some good overviews and can be used for some good pre-screening. Also the maintainer of Simpy, Otis, wrote a long comment explaining how he might even adapt the code to make the mindmap work for that too!

Wikka installed

I have to say that I amvery impressed with Wikka. Wikka is a wiki software that I just installed on my web page. It is simple, yet full of plugins. Open source (or I would not consider it). It also permits to integrate freemind mind map inside it. More than this: for each page the administrator, (ehm, that is me!) can decide who is allowed to read, write and comment. I installed it about one week ago, and I avoided to make it public until I would found a way to deal with wiki spam. I already have too much spam on this blog. Finally I found what I think is the perfect solution:

  1. only registered user can comment and modify the wiki. It might not make it very fast, but at least I know who said what.
  2. I inserted a plugin such that to register people must write a password in the ‘registration code’. But the password is written on the same log in page.
  3. To write spam in the wiki they have to manually register. Which I feel is fair. I have no anger toward those that manually spam. Are the mechanical ones that ought to be stopped.
  4. If the spammers write something that automatically register, I will change the registration code.
  5. And if they write something that automatically grabs from the page the registration code I change the context (the phrase in which the code appears), making their software useless. I will move from:
    • registration code:”pippo pluto” to
    • registrati0n code:”pippo pluto”

As you cannot code for something that blocks all permutation of the word “Viagra”, so you cannot code for something that codes for all the permutation of the phrase: “Registration Code”. Ah! And this is the revenge of the mass!

I think the idea is so brilliant that I will look if I can find a similar plugin for wordpress.

The next think that impressed me in Wikka was the use of rss. It is actually very easy to integrate an rss in a page. Maybe it is the same in other wiki engines, I don’t know. But on wikka it is absolutely trivial. You just need to write {{rss url=”http://the.rss.net/address.rss” cachetime=”30″}} and the rss gets taken shown, and cached for 30 minutes. Now 30 minutes cache is what del.icio.us requires from you if you are going to connect an rss to your homepage. So now I have started to integrate all sort of rss from delicious to my web page. Check for example my Tag Cloud page. With the rss from my personal bookmarks tagged with tagcloud, rss from the popular page in delicious delicious/popular/tagcloud, and the rss from technorati (i.e. people who have blogged on Tag Clouds).

And all this is in the floating right bar. So I still can use the rest of the page as place for me to write content, and notes…

And as notes taker this wiki is slowly becoming. I started moving my Reading List to the wiki. And I added to the reading list, the rss of popular reading lists. You see, how it all comes together.

But this is not all! Wikka (and they should pay me after a post like this!) gives the possibility to set the privacy for each page. That is for each page you can chose who can read it, who can comment on it and who can change it. In this way I can use this not only as my personal notes but as the notes for project that I might be sharing with other people.

Come and say hello: http://wiki.pietrosperoni.it

BBC news missing Main European languages

The BBC is present in 43 languages. Incredible I would say. What is more incredible are the naguages that are missing, more than the languages that are present. In particular for Europe we have:
Russian, Uckrainian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Slovene, Slovak, Albanian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Greek, and Turkish.

Impressive, isn’t it? And yet don’t you feel that we are missing something? I mean… what about French, German, Spanish, and Italian? Well, French is there. Just not in the European list but in the African one. As well as Portuguese and Spanish (which is called Mundo just to make things more interesting, but the url recites ‘/spanish/’) for Latin America. But there is not just a difference of language but of focus. So, for example, there are two edition in Portugese: Portuguese (focused on South America) Portugueseafrica (focused on Africa).

Still French, German, Spanish, and Italian are missing as BBC pages focused on Europe, while German and Italian are just missing, fullstop (Japanese is also missing from the Asia languages, but I am sure it is a coincidence!).

The question remains, why is it so? And I suppose that from a strictly economical point of view it makes sense for BBC to invest in opening up to nations where they will not find a big competition with local media. Also the people who would
choose BBC in those countries are generally people from a highly educated background that surf often on the Internet. In short people who have little problems in reading their news in English.

Yet it would bve so good to have this other possible source of news for media-controlled-Italy. In the meantime Euronews offers news in 7 european languages. A message that it might seem a small niche for the BBC but the request for european news in Italian, German, Spanish, and French is there.

Duck and Cover and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Internet is really great. How you can take a topic, or an article and dig in it for as much time as you want is wonderful.

Yesterday I read the “Open the Archive” on how archives need to both be protected and be cosulted. And how Microsoft bought Corbis and now it is conserving the huge image archive by sinking it in 220 meters of limestone (out of time and out of reach), while Rick Prelinger is making his archive accessible for everybody at http://www.archive.org.
I already knew about archive.org as it is the house of the wayback machine, the archive that stores old internet pages. What I ignored was that it contained also open source movies, footage, music pieces and so on. A real gold mine. So here was I, passing the afternoon downloading old footage from the USA government. In particular Duck and Cover (parody) from 1951 who teached to kids how to behave in case of a nuclear attack. Each footage included a comment section, and sometimes the comments were more interesting than the footage itself. Some people took Duck and Cover as a propaganda tool trying (and probably suceeding) in keeping the population psycologically duck (submitted) and covered (blind). Others just ridicularised the idea that a simple newspaper could be of any cover help in case of a nuclear attack, while others still remind how survivors from Hiroshima showed signs of worse burns where the kimono was black as dark colors absorb more radiations. Quite interesting. I remember having seen the movie the first time in a French curse in 1987. Why they would show such a movie ina french course I don’t remember, but I always wanted to see it again. Personally I feel that the greates danger was not in Nuclear War, but in breeding a generation of paranoid person who feel that ‘war can come at any time’. And we have no responsability or possibility to act on it.

Along the same line came “Boys Beware“. Another paranoid movie on what could happen to you if a stanger gave you a lift. It equated Homosexuality with Child Molestation. And described the first as: “a sickness of the mind that can be transmitted”.

While the two movies where quite instructive in thinking how much road have we travelled from that time, it also inspire to think what other lies or unnecessary paranoia are we believing and buying. From “Terrorists can strike at any time, and we have no responsability over it” to “don’t look at the sun or you will turn blind”, “don’t masturbate or you will turn blind also”, “don’t look at the sun while masturbating, or you will turn blind on both eyes”, “don’t eat raw eggs/meat/milk”, “Pedophiles are all child molesters”, “someone having sex with a teenager is a pedophile”, “man are all rapers”, female sex abusers do not exist”, and so on.

The mood was then raised by an old cartoon of Popey Making an advertisment for the Oldmobile (automobile, car):In My Merry Oldsmobile. The advertisment also includes an older song from 1905. I laughed out loud at the cartoon and clapped (although I was alone in the room!) at the end of it. I also liked the song so much that I had to look for the lyrics and had to resist the urge to phone all my female friends to sing to them:

Come away with me, Lucille
In my merry Oldsmobile
Down the road of life we’ll fly
Automobubbling, you and I

And don’t trust when they say that at the time people were so virtuous: :)

…They love to “spark” in the dark old park
As they go flying along
She says she knows why the motor goes
The “sparker” is awfully strong …

Then today, Sunday, I promised myself I would not spend too much time in front of the internet, so I went for a ride with my oldsmobile but then the raw milk had to be brought to the fridge so here I am. Just in time to discover the ‘OPEN LETTER TO KANSAS SCHOOL BOARD‘ which raises the important issue: in Intelligent Design should be taugh in school why not other creationist theories, in particular the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) theory. That teaches that the whole universe was created by the FSM with his noodly appendage.

I read the whole letter, the answers from the K.S. School Board, most of the mails, until the one from Chris who explains that ” Although not a believer in He Who’s Name Cannot be Pronounced Because it has No Bloody Vowels, I try not to piss him off, just in case. ” Made me laugh too hard to be able to continue. Most of the mails are from scientist who very creatively see how they always got it wrong and now they started believeing in the flying spaghetty monster.

The new religion is getting much pubblicity, being present in Wikipedia,
The Guardian, Uncyclopedia, BoingBoing, and a number of other blogs, and news around.

Great Quotes:
“We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.”
and
” I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.”

My reading list

Some of you know that I left ProtoLife. I hope in the future to keep on colaborating with the P.A.C.E. project, but for now that’s it. I want to go back to Germany, and finish my Ph.D. .
Somehow this seem to have a higher priority. Beside is getting clearer for me each day that I am hardly a ‘company’ type of person. I’d rather make research inside the university, or nowhere at all. While I was in Venice I met with the local group of Go players. Sandro, one of those made a big impression on me, being a person of great knowledge, whose only excuse was: “I don’t look at television, I read.”.

I decided that it made sense to read more… that it made sense to read ‘cum grano salis‘. With intelligence, choosing carefully what to read,

When I came back to Rome I decided that it made sense to read more. More than this, that it made sense to read ‘cum grano salis‘. With intelligence, choosing carefully what to read, and not reading any bullshit the latest friend suggested me. I remember telling a friend, “you know, I decided to stop just following my nose, on what books to read…”
His answer was quite funny: “If you don’t follow your nose, what do you follow? Other people’s nose”. And then he added: “This is actually a serious question, you might for example, find some people that you really don’t like, ask their suggestion, and then took off the book they suggest you from your reading list”. As you will see by the end of this entry, this ended up being very near the mark.

So I started asking around what where the books (or document) they felt where more important to understand the world we are living in

So I started asking around what where the books (or document) they felt where more important to understand the world we are living in. As an example I often gave where the acts of the Second Vatican Council (in particular Dignitatis Humanae). Since I am not catholic (nor even Christian), by suggesting something that was not traditionally seen as a classical text, I was implicitly suggesting: the documents that are behind the world we are living in, the documents that most people refer too, but few really read.

I did not receive many lists, but here and there someone would suggest a book or two, that I would dutifully add to my note. I then started keeping track of this list in a separate page on my blog. Since I did not publicize the page no one would read it. The list is nowhere ended, and I feel its inadeguateness knowing all the wonderful books that should be there, but I preferred to keep it small, and add new books slowly.

While I was keeping the list in the back burnere, and slowly going through some of those books, I found another list a much better one from which I am about to fatten my list. And the story of how I found it, and how it relates to my list is very funny, so let me tell it to you.

The list have it all, it’s the most complete list of texts I found that were really important to understand the world we are living in. Each of those book inspired millions of people.

A right winged newspaper: Human Events online, asked

a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to help us compile a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th enturies.

They crossed the information between the various people and came to a list of 10 really dangerous books, and 21 ‘honorable mentions’. The list have it all, it’s the most complete list of texts I found that were really important to understand the world we are living in. Each of those book inspired millions of people. Just to understand where those people come from the book is important. Fundamental I would say. You have it all: Freud, Darwin, Gramsci, Marx, Engels, Mao, the Kinsey report (the Kinsey Report! That I wanted to read from so long). Dewey, that I have been told set the foundation for modern relativism thinking (so dear to our new pope). There is also Mein Kampf, which I am not sure if I’ll have the guts to read, but I probably should. And many others, Betty Friedan (don’t you want to understand Feminism? Read it, too), Keynes, Adorno… Is a wonderful list.

Interesting enough I was not the only one to see this as my next reading list. On the delicious page of the people who bookmarked the article the most common comment is “my next reading list”, ” A very interesting list of powerful books that have changed history.”, “some good reading”, “…some of these would make my required reading list…”, “…would make an excellent library booklist.” and so on.

Buy ‘The Kinsley report in the human male’, and help sustain the neocons battle.

One of the things that you should not fail to notice is that each book in the top ten most dangerous book is presented with a link. The link to Amazon. But is not just a normal link to Amazon. Amazon let you sign an agreement so that you can advertise some books from your website, and if people buy your book, they get a discount, and you get a percentage. So, yes you got it, each of those book is presented in that format. If you click on those links to go to Amazon, and you buy the book, the right winged journal will get a percentage. Will get a percentage out of you buying Mein Kampf, and The Communist Manifesto. “Buy ‘The Kinsley report in the human male’, and help sustain the neocons battle.”. Ah, the irony of all this.

no I don’t ask people I don’t like which books to read and cross them out. I ask them which books not to read, and add them to my reading list. Way more efficient!

So, to answer my friend, “no I don’t ask people I don’t like which books to read and cross them out. I ask them which books not to read, and add them to my reading list. Way more efficient!”

And if you read all this, and want to add something to my reading list, feel free to suggest:
“what books or document would you suggest to understand the world we are living in”. And tell us why, in what way was this book so unique that reading it is a must. Now the line is yours.

Tagclouds and cultural changes

In the previous post I discussed how we can measure the relative importance of tags in a post, by calculating their weight, as

  • weight of tag t= (number of people using t)/(total number of people)

I also said that:

Not only we could study a culture by studying the differences in the power law approximated by the tag clouds used by people of that culture. But we could even measure cultural eartquake by measuring the difference between the tag cloud being generated before a certain event, or after a certain event.

Independently Clay Shirky was coming at a similar conclusion, although he more focused on temporal changes that seem more signature of a particular subgroup of people all bookmarking a site at a certain time:

During a period of about 120 users’ additions of OIO, 20 or of them used the tag ‘ia’, putting it between #7 and #10 during that period. Now it is down to #17. This suggests that one or a few IA-oriented sites or mailing lists posted the link, and it got a flurry of attention from those taggers in a narrower window of time. This in turn suggests a conversationally tightly-knit IA community.

Through this tool we can see changes in the culture we are living in. We are used to feel those changes, but generally we never were able to measure them. Maybe now we might start to be able to do it.

But let’s go back to the tag weight. Terrell Russell took the ball, and in one evening of programming presented a tool to actually see how the weights change in time.

Nothing to say about the tool. It works perfectly well, and although it can be enhanced in many little ways, it already is very useful. Not bad for one evening.

More interesting, from my point of view, is how, through this tool we can see changes in the culture we are living in. We are used to feel those changes, but generally we never were able to measure them. Maybe now we might start to be able to do it.

No change

Tag Clouds rapidly converging

First of all I would like to show you the graph of a part of the culture where no changes are happening:
From the site: Nifty Corners. 1859 people having bookmarked it by now. The values soon converge to what we can expect to be their definite value (for the culture we are in).

Little Social-Quake

Continue reading

BBC backstage and News in Folksonomy form

Some things are bound to happen. And they tend to happen at the right time. We have been using tags from years now, but the momentum have builded up, day after day. Always seeing more and more computer programs using them. Starting from deli.icio.us and flickr. Then 43 things.com, consumating.com, tagsurf.com and all the clones of the above (BTW if anybody can find me a small open source server program that emulates Flickr for personal use,I would be grateful). And of course technorati tags, and GutenTag that give rss feeds to technorati tag.
But something was missing. Somthing that some people might have noticed. The news were not playing with tags. News were still presented in the old top down way: politics, economics, international…
On Google News, as well as CNN. On Yahoo News, as on BBC.

But finally something is starting to move over there too.
Two services, pretty much at the same time were presented: Yahoo News with tags and BBC with tags.

But there are some serios differences between the two services. Yahoo content is being automatically indexed by a program, who imposes the tags according to what keywords are found in the text. As such Yahoo tags is a Top Down keyword classification of stories.

Instead (and here you can see the revolutionary spirit blowing through English news services), BBC program is a truly down up grassroot program. A program where everybody can add any tag to any article.
The difference is not a minor one, as in the first case it is the user that have to adapt to the world view of Yahoo, while in the second it is BBC that includes in his wider world view the user one. In a sense it is a case of Tagsonomy vs. Folksonomy, or
narrow folksonomy vs. broad folksonomy.

Of course both the program are still in their first days. Full of bugs, and of suggestion from us on how to make it better, smoother, and nearer to our personal desires.

Of course having anybody being able to add any tag to a copy of the BBC content is full of political dangers. What is stories about important politicians start to be tagged as ‘dictator’ or ‘wanker’. This is in fact inevitable, but politicians showld well use this as an indication of their popularity, than something to be changed.

At the moment anybody can add a tag in the BBC news page by login in as ‘guest’/'guest’. And already we have some people who have tagged some stories as ‘wanker. But if we go to delicious we see that nearly no one have used such epitome.

Why is that? My personal position is that people are more careful when tagging something for their own personal use. On delicious everybody have an account. And although you could have as many account you like, they cost. They cost time and memory to set it up. So we all tend to have just the minimum amount of acount needed. But on BBC, at the moment, only BBC person are allowed to have their own account. We normal human being, can just be guest. Ans as such we might feel deresponsabilized respect to what we wrote. So I think that, although the experiment is great, it will only work properly when everybody can set up his own account, and serch his account, or the account of another, well defined person.

Of course this also open up all sort of extra possibilities. After all, if anybody can tag any article with his own tags. Then to each article a set of tag will be defined. What is I want to receive (maybe on my mobile) all the articles tagged with a certain keyword. The possibilities are really endless.

And to look at those possibilities BBC had started a whole new project, called BBC Backstage where geeks are invited to collaborate with the staff of BBC to develop the API to permit to everybody to reuse the BBC material. Cross this with the fact tha much of this material is copyrighted with a copyleft copyright (copygotit?), and you see how the whole situation can positively explode.
Imagine, much of the material from BBC, offered for free, in the way wanted by the best geeks and hackers, to produce information in any noncommercial way they please.

Already many ideas are flowing? An RSS for the results from sport match. Crossing google maps with BBC News.

Possibility to have BBC news accepting trackbacks.

And many many others.

All this would mingle BBC with the common people. Think, all the news, mixed and remixed. Commented, trackbacked. Until you can read an article from BBC news from any device (through rss), in any format you want (through your rss reader). Filtered anyway you want (through folksonomy), and seeing the world response to that article(through trackback and comments).

Thank you BBC
(and no, I am not paid by BBC)

Thanks also Wired for some inspiration.

Technorati rss 2: Guten Tag

As I predicted a service on the net that offers an rss feed of blogs with a certain keyword / tag has appeared. It is It’s a Tag world from Stephane Lee.

The system seems still in its infancy (the name needs to be shorter, for start, to be used as a tag itself) , but by offering the rss feeds of blog entries they give a really valuable tool to the blogphere.
Now, either Technorati starts offering the rss feed itself, or sues Creative Mobs (enstranging a big part of the blogsphere), or accepts to coexist with another, potentially aggressive, competitor.

And indeed, it’s a tag world,
worse than that:
it’s a tag eat tag world!

Pietro

P.S. The system has also a certain humor and pragmaticity, the general tag page is called: ‘Guten Tag’ (german for ‘Good Day’). And each tag, has, in its header, a link to the equivalent Wikipedia entry (which works fine only in English, unfortunately, but still…).

Thanks Stephane.

Observations while Clustering Mike’s bookmarks

The first person to use the tool (presented here) was Mike Harris, for his delicious entries. Note immediatly how the time needed to compute the map has little to do with the number of posts, and much to do with the number of tags.

  • WCityMike: 2029 Posts, 87 Tags and 81 Main Tags, calculated in 86.85 seconds.
  • p.s.blog: 21 Posts, 43 Tags and 17 Main Tags, calculated in 0.23 seconds.
  • pietrosperoni: 372 Posts, 400 Tags and 152 Main Tags, calculated in 377.40 seconds.

The Main Tags, are the tags that will appear as main branches. And we can also see a difference between Mike maps, and mine. In mine I tend to have about 0.4 of the tags as Main Tags, while Mike tends to have something more near 0.9. This is probably due to the fact that I tend to apply many tags to each post (four or five are common, but sometimes more), while Mike tends to use an average of one or two.

If we look at the map we can also see that there are less clusters than in my map. Note for example how in the small blog map nearly everything is clustered… and those are only 20 posts and 17 Main Tags.

If we look at the source code we can see that, on the 9th line some constants are set:

distances_constant= [0.333333,0.4,0.5,1]

Those constants define the minimum distance for entries to be in the same cluster.
The 1/3 means that if one third of the posts between two tags are in common then the tags should be in the same cluster. And so on. Tags that are farther apart, but have a path of tags between them such that you can go from one to the next without never going above that distance are in the same cluster, too. A process that in the log is referred to as making the distances tables transitive.

Those number have been specifically tweaked for my delicious posts (and generally my style of bookmarking). It seem obvious that for Mark the numbers should be different. Since it is more uncommon for him for posts to share a tag, probably the numbers should be lower. Something like:

distances_constant= [0.1,0.333333,0.25,0.4,1]

The last 1 is just to make sure that tags that are synonimes are shown together.

I think eventually I will modify the program so that it is possible to insert your own constants from outside. But for now I am just grateful to Mike for giving me the material to understand better how to enhance the program.

firefox will not stop reload bloglines

I am getting really annoyed. I use Firefox, and at the moment it is quite useless on a number of sites. As they never stop reloading.

In particular (it seem to me) on all the sites that have a reload. Two among all: bloglines (the left bar). And the home page of La Repubblica. In the first page, according to its source code, it should reload every 3600 seconds. That is every hour. Quite an honest command for a feed reader. On the second every 300 seconds, 5 minutes. Right for a news site.

Instead they download, then the first waits 7 seconds (I checked it) and start download again in a loop. And since blogline is quite slow, this makes everything slow down. The second downloads the page, and then does it again and again without ever stopping.

It is as if he counts the tenth of second instead of the seconds. Then 5 minutes would be 1 second, and 3600 would be 6 seconds.

Now, if I open IE all this does not happen.

Strangely enough this ‘bug’ does not happen only with firefox. I remember a cd burner software that use to reload the page on and on. SO much that I had to disinstal it and find a new one.

I am using Microsoft windows 2000 with service pack 4. I installed every possible service pack and extension available from microsoft.

Any suggestion on what could it be?

I would like not to have to reinstall everything (windows), although I suspect if I do I would solve the problem.

Addendum, June 2005, 6 month later: I showed my problem to my friend who is visiting, he adressed me to adSubtract, which in the PRO version gives the possibility of stripping html code of incoming pages from the reload command. Now everything works fine, and is quite funny to see those commercial pages, reduced to their bare essential. Thanks to both.