Tag Archives: trackback

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.

Visualizing the double hierarchical nature of entries.

I keep on being hunted by a nightmare:

Think about a post. You write a post, and this is in answer to some other posts, some other web pages, done by someone else. And your post will often be answered by other people. In a sense no post is an island. Given a post you can see all the post that answered it, or reviewed it. This through the trackback list. And they themselves has other post that answered them. And so on. But this does not work only one way. You can also go backward in time (which in fact is what we usually do when we follow the links.) You read a post, then you read the post that post is refering to, and so on. And in my dream this is a sort of tapistry, where each post is a node that links together different threads. So each post is not just contained in a thread, but connects to many threads that work through it.

Now think about a discussion group. In a discussion group each post is part of a tree. Each post can be answered by many posts, but it has only one father. One post it is itself answering to. And because of this structure it is possible, and actually easy to generate the classical hierarchical structure, that you can see pretty much everywhere in discussion group. (i.e. the Healing Dao discussion group)

But if you look closely you will notice that discussion groups are actually not having really a tree structure. Posts do yes have one father, but they refer to many other posts. They might not explicitly link to all the posts they refer to, but they surely refer to many posts. This is because in discussion groups there isn’t usually the need to link to all the relevant posts. After all the readers are generally a filtered group of people. Also often a person will use one post to answer a whole bunch of other posts, especially inside a closed community, where everybody reads everything.

Yet the hierarchical way in which posts are written in a discussion group is really useful. You can in an instant perceive how many people answered, what where the thread departing from that post, etc.

Now look at a post in the blogging world. It refers to many other posts. It explicitly links to them. And if it is succesful it will have many posts linking to it themselves. Now forget a moment about the upward link. Each post posts that link to it. In a sense they are replies to it. The link to those posts is saved in the trackback list. And each of those posts itself will have certain posts that refer to it.

Are you starting to see it?
Each post is in a sense the root of a tree, whose branches are the posts that refer to it, and whose sub-branches are all the posts that refer to the branch posts. In a sense nothing new. But now, if you see your posts in this way, you can also wish not to display just the immediate trackbacks, the posts that refer to your posts. But also their trackback too.

And here is the first part of my dea. Since each post is available in feed format, it should be possible to fetch, for each post, not just the trackbacks, but the trackbacks trackback. The post that refer to the post that refer to your post. Which means seeing the tree starting from your post up to depth 2. And in theory it should be possible to reiterate the process, and go deeper and deeper.

Why is this important? Well, when you read a discussion group, it is often useful to see the hierarchical view.

Title of the post 0:
Content of the post 0:
blah, blah, blah, blah,
blah, blah, blah, blah,
blah, blah, blah, blah,

-Trackback 1
–Trackback to the trackback 1
–Second trackback to the trackback 1
-Trackback 2
-Trackback 3
–Trackback to the trackback 3
—Trackback to the trackback to the trackback 3
-Trackback 4
… and so on.

It might seem an expensive research, but when we read a post, and it has a certain number of trackbacks, it is quite important to see which of those lead to other posts and which didn’t.

And now we go to the second part of the idea.
In a sense there is no reason why the whole tree view structure should only work one way. I mean, each post links to many other posts. Each of those posts link themselves to other posts. And here we have another tree. This time a tree that goes backward in time.

So I think that for each post it should be possible to see both those views.

  • All the entries that are linked from it, and the entries that are linked to those entries, up to a specific depth.
  • All the entries that link to it, and the entries that link to those entries, up to a specific depth.
  • And maybe combine the two view having the first entries, in the format of one entry per line, above it. The later, again in the format of one entry per line, below.

I think this view would greatly increase the ability to see the local structure of the blogsphere. Of course the brothers of a particular entry (the entries that share the same parents) should also be available on the side. As well as the entries that are generally linked from the same offspring. But this is making it unnecessarily complicated. So let’s forget it for the time being.

So, we have reached the conclusion that each post uniquely defines two tree of other posts. The tree generated by it, and the tree that generates it. And I claim that we should work to be able to visualize those trees.

Doing it on Tagsurf
So, where did the idea came to me? Essentially working on tagsurf. Because, you see, tagsurf is maybe the first place where it would be really easy to visualize all this. You have many posts. There is the possibility (although I am not sure if it works right now) to send trackbacks from post to post. So each post does not need to have only one parent, but many. Many. It is true that, as it is now, trackbacks are not used inside the system. The reply is a different thing than the trackback. And each post only belongs to one thread which started with the first post that was not written as a reply to something. So there are quite some changes to be done, to let this vision ground in that system. But is is possible, and comparably easier to do than more generally in the blogsphere.

Those are the changes that I see have to be made to make it possible:

  • Make sure that it is possible to send trackbacks between different posts.
  • Organize all the reply so that they also send a trackback
  • Make sure that each time a post A sends a trackback to another post B, this is also stored inside A
  • Add a view down in time page, that from each post gives you that post, and all the posts that reply (that is trackback) to that post, and so on
  • Hack this page so that the post appear in a hierarchical way, where it is very clear who is answering to what. Generally the way in which livejournal handles comments is a good way
  • Since you stored all the trackback in both directions, organize a page view up in time, that from that post shows you all the posts that entry was answering to. And since they were themselves sending trackback to other posts, add those other posts as subbranches.
  • Make it very easy, given a certain post to use those two views, and try taking away the usual thread view. All the information should still be there.

Once the idea is in place you can then cross the idea with the idea of the tag, you could, for example, investigate one tagsurf entry (blog entry), and one tag. Then only the entries that contain that tag will appear in the two tress. And if an entry does not have that tag, then all its subbranches would be excluded, even if they have the tag. (Thanks Andy for this idea)

Doing it on Technorati
Another one that has all the information to generate those views would be Technorati. Of course I would rather see it in a decentralised way. But it would be so easy for them to do it, while to do it in a decentralised way might be such a nightmare, that I am absolutely hopeful that they might make it before. Think about it. A Technorati page: investigate blogsphere local structure. You pass an url to this page, and the said structure appears. Up to depth… say 3.

Update: BN (in the comments) points out to BlogPulse‘s Conversation Tracker, as a limited solution to what I was suggesting. It still has many limits, but it is surely a step in the right direction. Beside is good to be reminded that Technorati isn’t the only service to observe the blogsphere.

Tagsurf first review

This is going to be big. It’s called tagsurf. When we were setting up the taoist discussion board, at Tao Bums, I was looking for a board that permitted me to tag individual messages with different tags. The reason is that over there we are now a group of friendly people and every thread start with a topic, but often touches many separate ones. The board had to be in PhP for reasons only knew to the web master, but that we all were happy to follow. So we started looking around, but no board with tagging facility went up. Nothing. I had to admit that the idea was quite new, and I have not seen any such board around in any case. And then we decided for phpBB which being open source would have had new versions with any new cool geeky thing appearing every so often. Well. Now I finally found the first tag based discussion board. It’s called tagsurf. And is very cool. You get to write messages and tag them. As tag you can use any word up to any size. Now, the result of this is that you can tag thing with the url of something. So immediatly a series of utilities started appearing:
People (first one I saw doing it was Russell Beattie) added a tagsurf button. In short if you click on that button you get all the comments on tagsurf that uses your permalink as a tag. In a sense it is outsourcing the discussion board.
Yes, I added it too, is down near the little technoraty bubble, and I just needed to add:
<a href="http://tagsurf.com/post?tag=<?php the_permalink() ?>">Tagsurf this</a>

in the template.

I also went back to see how was tagsurf behaving in del.icio.us. It seem that, as it often appear in other cases, the meme is 6 days old. At the beginning few people noticed it, and now is starting to explode. I too found out because of the delicious discussion board, which I would suggest anybody who is interested to anybody who is interested in delicious OR folksonomy

I think this tagsurf will and can have great impact. They already have some API defined.

I also got an eye to their privacy policy. It seemed simple and clear. Yet now I cannot find it anymore. I suspect that they might be working on it right now.

I also made a small bookmarklet to post an entry on tagsurf about a specific page. Just drag the word bookmarklet on the bar and it should work. Of course for it to work you have to be logged in in tagsurf.

    Great points:
  • trackback: every post gets is an entry point for trackback. In other words anything you say can receive trackback from anything else. You say something here, and it get people in the blogsphere chatting. And you can follow their conversation. This is something very important that was missing in all the bullettin board I have been using. In a sense many discussion board are only looking in. This is also looking out.
  • trackback 2: Every post that you make can send trackback to anything you want. The software to do this automagically respect to the other posts inside tagsurf is still missing, but I can’t imagine it not appearing very soon.
  • possibility to mix different threads: since each post gets as many tags as the poster want it is quite easy for people to join different threads of discussion.
    Problems I might see coming.
  • Spam, spam, spam: I recieve about 30 spam trackbacks a day. And they get filtered by cool programs and finally deleted by me. Yet those programs need me to make the final judgement. Who will make the judgement for all the trackbacks in all those posts? Will the user have to? Can someone close the trackback from his own posts? I see many problem and much discussion over here.
  • copyright: This is another big one. Let’s say that I post a cool entry in tagsurf, who gets the copyright of it? It might be important. Imagine that someone takes it, and wants to add some extra tags. But adding tags is not allowed at the moment. So he copies the post and just reposts it with the extra tags. Do I have a say on it?

All together I think this is a wonderful piece of new technology. When tachnoraty started his tag page I wasn’t very impressed, but this, I think, will make some huge effects. And still I can’t see all the implications.

ADDENDUM: just as I ended this post I read fully the great and very interesting post from Russell Beattie. And I found that he had made exactly the same bookmarklet. Oops. Well, I hope he will not sue me, I haven’t copied his code. I just reinvented the wheel.

ADDENDUM to the ADDENDUM: As I was looking at all the people who were commenting on the thread on Russell post I noticed another post with the same bookmarklet. And I thought I would have been the first ;). At least I get to see if the trackback to posts over there actually works.

ADDENDUM to the ADDENDUMto the ADDENDUM: trackback does not seem to work, or the comment is being held back for security reasons