Progress so far….

A few weeks ago I decided to try and get back in to regularly writing. This came after a conversation with my wife in which we recollected that in the 1980s I was able to earn about 50% of my income through writing – mainly technical journalism and technical books. There was one period where all my income came form writing – a year spent living in Nottingham and it was awesome.

Now, the world’s changed big-time and I doubt that the days of me making a fair income from technical writing will ever come back unless something major happens, but I decided that I would like to return to doing some writing and gradually build up to the point where I can see if I still have it in me to write a couple of books on topics that I’ve been mulling over for a while.  In one case, 30 years, but that’s another story!

One piece of advice I have taken to heart in the past and that worked very well for me was to make an appointment for myself to be at my desk and writing at a certain time each day.  So, I went through my calendar in OneNote and wrote down as the first activity of each day (after praying, feeding the cats (naturally – can’t upset the house-gods), and writing up my dream journal ) would be to write for 30 minutes.  I chose 30 minutes because I knew I could probably do it without too much hassle each day, and had done it in the past.  I also felt that 30 minutes was a time in which I could get a reasonable amount done – certainly a few hundred words if I came to the party prepared.

So, on the 12th November I did this blog post : http://reader.joepritchard.me.uk/godincidence-strikes-again/ and on the 13th I did ‘The Girl with the Parasol’ on this blog. I’d decided to go with the Blog posts as the way forward, as they make me come up with different ideas each day.  I’ll no doubt break out to short stories and longer stuff soon, but right now it’s the discipline I’m looking for.

So, how’s the project gone?

Well, setting the time has worked rather well; having said that I bet over half the time I’ve sat down later than the time specified for writing!  I set it early morning because that’s when I’m likely to be most creative – I’ve always been more of a morning person than anything else. But it has ensured that each day there’s a slot of time that I’ve put aside for my creative work and I’ve delivered on it.

Mostly.

The 28th November was a missed day – I’d had a long weekend, got up late, and then other things happened and the morning just got lost.  29th November was picked up again the day, and here we are on the 30th at the right time writing the words!  I’m not going to beat myself up about it – I decided that if I missed a day for a good reason (general lifestyle chaos is pretty good as far as I’m concerned) then I’d just crack on with it the next day.

In terms of ‘deliverables’, not including today, and not counting stuff I’ve written as part of my day-job or dream journal, I’ve written something in the region of 11,500 words in 19 days (not including this blog post) and don’t feel that I’ve raised a sweat.  Admittedly, it’s not going to get me a Pulitzer or Nobel prize anytime soon, but it’s shown me a few things about myself:

  • I can be disciplined enough to write each day.
  • I can come up with ideas to write a separate piece each day.
  • I can come back to writing after skipping a day.
  • In theory I could probably write 15,000 words a month and not notice the inroads in to my time.
  • That 30 minutes each day came from reading the news and social media – writing probably does my blood pressure more good!!

So – I have to say that the experiment is going well. I haven’t yet got it to ‘habit’ status, but it’s getting there. The next milestone will be around the middle of December when I can say ‘Over a month’.

Watch this space!

 

The Ring of Gyges and the cat’s backside

ring1

The Ring of Gyges is a magic ring discussed by the philosopher Plato in his Republic. It granted the wearer the gift of invisibility, and was used by plato to explore what would happen if an intelligent,  moral and upstanding man were to be given this gift.  After all, he’d be able to go anywhere, do anything, with the absolute minimum risk of being caught. Would such a man be able to stay morally and ethically upstanding, or would his morality stretch as far as “I can’t get caught, therefore it’s party time!”

In other words – would such a ‘gift’ corrupt even the most upright citizen.

Sounds familiar? Well, HG Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’ certainly features this idea, and it’s been suggested that the ‘One Ring’ in The Lord of the Rings is a more forceful version of the Ring of Gyges – one that actually corrupts the wearer rather than allows the wearer to corrupt themselves.

I started writing this post – OK, I wrote the title – about 3 years ago, back in 2012, just before I fell away from blogging. Back then I was pondering whether the relative anonymity of the Internet was acting like a Ring of Gyges that was available to anyone online who chose to operate behind an anonymous account or an alias. At the time I was still recovering from spending a few years as Admin of an online forum with a few folks wearing such rings and acting like idiots.

What’s surprised me in the meantime – and what triggered me to finally write this post – was that it’s now possible to see people being total arses under their own names, often with a photo visible! Online anonymity in some places has fallen by the wayside, and I have to say that I expected people to behave more like they would in ‘face to face’ discussions.  It’s a sobering experience to look through the posts in discussion threads on Facebook – where real names are at least in principle required – and see just how belligerent, aggressive, and abusive some people are, even under their own names.

I have to say that I’ve been surprised. I’ve always used my own name when publishing online; part of this is that ‘once a writer, always a writer’, and I just love seeing my name out there, but there’s also an element of removing the temptation to behave badly!

So…is the Ring of Gyges an outmoded concept? Are people just more shameless? Do folks just not care when they’re being badly behaved and everyone can ‘name and shame’ them for it?

Or, is it what might be called the ‘cat’s backside’ syndrome? Just after we adopted our cat Jarvis he was quite nervous for a few days, and would try and hide in various places around the house.  Unfortunately, his approach to hiding was to hide his head so he couldn’t see me, whilst leaving his backside out in the open.  Not a cunning plan….

Maybe all these folks just think that because they can’t see us, we can’t see them?  And if so, just how dumb are they?

The Competent Person….

The ‘Competent Man’ (or woman) is a character in literature who has a vast range of skills and abilities that make them appear to be capable of doing anything.  Classic male examples are Jeeves or Angus MacGyver.  Now, I’m pretty sure that I’m not one of these mythical men, but I was reminded of this creature when I came across a quote from Robert Heinlein, attributed to a character in one of his novels, Lazarus Long:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Well, this quote was written about 50 odd years ago by someone who was a great believer in self-reliance, but I can manage 15 or 16 of those.  To save you trying to work out what I haven’t yet managed – I get my meat from a butcher, have invaded nowhere (unless you cound the battles I’ve played out when wargaming), fight like a girl and haven’t yet died, let alone died gallantly.

But what might we consider to be skills for a competent person today?

The thing that struck me is that we have tended to become more specialised, and often specialised in the minutiae or trivia of life.  I’d be interested to see what people think we might add to the above as ‘skills for the competent human being’ today.  Not ‘skills for the corporate drone’!  Here are my initial thoughts:

have an understanding of national politics, take part in civilised debate and research for the same, entertain small children, be a good listener, manage one’s personal privacy, plan and execute a protest, put up a blog or web site, find and hold down a job, run a household, be comfortable around the aged and dieing, host a meal, organise a funeral, apply basic maintenance to car and home, practice an artistic pursuit, understand some basic science and technology.

I guess that years ago anyone who could do this many different types of activity competently would have been regarded as a very well rounded personality but not necessarily that uncommon (obviously, replace blog or web site with something appropriate for the historical period) – today, I think that they’d be a rarity.

Which is a shame.

Thoughts?

 

 

Life is what happens….

…when you’re making other plans.

That’s the way things work according, I believe, to John Lennon.  I have to say that that’s how it felt a week or so back when I realised I hadn’t blogged for about 5 months. Looking back over the period between Christmas 2010 and now, I’m not surprised that I haven’t blogged – it’s been a Hell of a few months for me and mine, and we’re still hacking our way through them.

I’ve noticed a similar fall off in tweets and Facebook usage.  I guess that this is where I say something that will mark me out as a dilettante amongst online comentators, a wall-flower amongst social networkers, a poseur amongst the digerati:

My offline life was too intense to allow me to be arsed to blog.

There, I said it.  I just didn’t feel like blogging.  And is that such a bad thing?  When I was a kid, I must have promised myself year after year at Christmas that I would keep a diary.  The longest I managed it was probably until the 6th or 7th of January – after that entries slowed down to the rate of one every few days, then every few weeks, then stopped dead.  In later life I have managed to keep a ‘professional diary’, mainly for the purposes of billing and getting me to meetings, but very little, if any, personal stuff goes in there.  I manage better with blogging, but it falls apart when my offline life gets ‘interesting’.

I guess I’m just not capable of  blogging when there’s stuff happening in my day to day life.  I’m the same with creative writing – I’ve never been a great believer in the nonsense that gets written about artists starving in garrets and being incredibly productive.  What might happen is that hard times may create inspiration for creative thought, but it’s a rare talent (and one that I certainly don’t have) that can write or blog when hungry, cold, skint and anxious.

I’m sure that some of the events of the last 6 months will show up here sooner or later – but for now I’ll just do my best to write something occasionally.

The Death of Google Wave

Not for Google Wave the sudden death; more a slow, drawn out lingering farewell on the life support machine of ‘development has been stopped’. I guess it gives the boys at Mountain View the opportunity to change their minds if the pressure gets too much. The demise of Wave doesn’t actually surprise me; I’m surprised that it’s lived as long as it has done.

Here’s the story of my experiences with Google Wave.

When it was first announced, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – a sort of mash-up of email, instant messaging, social networking, blogging and online discussion forum. I received my invitation and got signed up. I have to say that I wasn’t an early adopter – to be honest I wasn’t sure what I was going to use it for and I’m past the stage in my life where I have to try out all new technology the day it comes out – life is way too short to be someone else’s Beta-Tester….

And there we hit problem number 1. I knew that Wave would not work with IE, so I signed in with Firefox, and had a few problems there as well. OK, Google, you want me to use Chrome so I will do – and I was sorely disappointed when I still couldn’t get the equivalent of a profile set up on my Wave account – the special form of Wave that stores such information just wasn’t playing with me. I contacted Google technical support, scoured discussion groups and found that others experienced the same problem. I was told by Google that it was something to do with my account, but not how to deal with it. Various other folks suggested that it was ‘just one of those things’ that might get fixed at some point, but for now it was a problem that bothered some users.

OK…I could live with it.

The second thing is that getting a Wave account is rather like buying the first telephone in your circle of friends – because of the social nature of Wave you need a few friends to make it worthwhile. You can use it without other folks in your network using it – but it rather misses the point. So, next, find your friends. And that was the next sticking point for most IE using, Firefox using, non-techies that I knew – why should they bother trying to get on to a new social networking / communications / chat / mail / what have you system where most of their friends AREN’T?

However, I have a number of techy pals and people who’re interested in emerging technologies, so I got a few folks on-boad.

OK…I could live with it.

We then hit the issue of exactly what to do with Wave. For one project we did try using it to discuss design ideas and such, but we found that it was more convenient to use an existing issue / bug handling system already in place for the organisation. Another couple of people I knew attempted to kick off various waves but it just felt like we were using Wave for the sake of using Wave. I was reminded to some degree of a great piece of software (IMO) from the 1980s called Lotus Agenda – it did all sorts of clever stuff but conceptually was a mare to get your head around – but at least Lotus provided a few samples of what could be done.

And I think that this was, in the end, the thing that did Wave for me – I couldn’t honestly think of an application within my circle of friends and professional contacts that couldn’t be done better with a different tool. There’s an approach to software utility development that I often adopt that I was taught very early on in my career; build tools to do specific jobs very well – and if possible, make those tools so that they’ll talk to each other. Now Wave attempted to combine e-mail, social networking, instant messaging, file sharing and online discussion forums in a way that doesn’t really give the advantages of the individual technologies but requires a change in working practice, in many cases change of browsing software and a cultural / behavioural change amongst participants to get them ‘on board’.

And that’s why I’m not terribly surprised that Wave hasn’t taken off; I am hopeful that if Google release the code in to the wild as an Open Source project we might see some new projects spring from it. But I’m still to be convinced that the ‘Wave’ concept of multi-mode online communication all in one place is going to be popular – especially if it requires you to sign up to yet another site and maybe even change browsers.

Configuring MOWES on a USB Stick

There’s an old saying that you can neither be too thin  or have too much money.  I’d like to add to that list – you can’t have too many web servers available on your PC.   For the non-geeks amongst you, a web server is a program that runs on a computer to ‘serve up’ web pages.  because I write web software for part of my living, I run my own web server on my PC.  Actually, that’s not quite true…because there are two main web servers used today – Microsoft’s IIS and Apache – I have two.  And today I decided that it would be really useful to have a web server and associated software on a USB stick that I could plug in to computers to demonstrate my web applications out on client sites.

I decided to use the MOWES installation – after all, it’s designed to run on USB sticks – and as well as the standard Apache, PHP and mySQL I decided to also install Mediawiki and WordPress.  As well as being used for demonstrations, I decided that I’d also like to have a portable Wiki to use for note taking / book research when I’m on my travels, and run a demonstration instance of WordPress.

Installation

The simplest installation involves putting a package together on the MOWES website, downloading it to your PC and installing it.  To get started with this, go to the MOWES Mixer page, click the ‘New Package’ radio button and select what you want to install.  For my purposes I chose the full versions of Apache, mySQL 5 , PHP5,  ImageMagick, Mediawiki, WordPress, and phpMyAdmin.  This selection process is done by ticking the displayed checkboxes – if you DON’T get a list of checkboxes for the ‘New Package’ option, try the site again later – I have had this occasionally and it will eventually give you the ‘ticklist’ screen.

Tick the desired components and download the generated package.

Plug in your USB stick, and unzip and install the MOWES package as per their instructions.  First thing to note here is that you may need to keep an eye on any requests from the computer for allowing components access to the firewall.  The default settings will be Port 80 for the Apache web server and 3306 for mySQL.  If these aren’t open / available – especially the mySQL one – then the automatic install of the packages by the MOWES program will fail miserably.

Once you have the files installed on your memory stick, then you can configure them.

Configuration

If you never intend to run the installation on any PC that has a local Web Server or instance of mySQL, then you don’t need to do anything else in terms of configuration.  You might like to take a look at ‘Tidying Up’ section below.

If you ARE going to use the USB Stick on PCs that may have other web servers or mySQL instances running, then it’s time to come up with a couple of ports to use for your USB stick that other folks won’t normally use on their machines.  The precise values don’t matter too much – after all, the rest of the world won’t be trying to connect to your memory stick – but be sensible, and avoid ports used by other applications.

I eventually chose 87 for the Apache Web Server, and 4407 for mySQL – 87 fitted with my own laptop where I already have a web server at Port 80 and another one at Port 85, and I run mySQL at the standard port of 3306.  NOTE that if you run the installation using an account with restricted privileges, you may not be able to open the new ports you use.

In order to configure the MOWES installation you’ll need a text editor of some sort – Windows Notepad will do at a push.  You’ll be editing a couple of files on the USB stick, as follows:

apache2\conf\httpd.conf

Open this file up and look for a line starting with Listen.  Change the number following it to the number you’ve chosen for your Apache Port – e.g. 87.

Now look for ‘ServerName’ – change the line to include the Port number – e.g. localhost:87

php5\php.ini

Open this file and find the line starting mysql.default_port.  Change the port referenced in this to the Port you have chosen for your mySQL installation.  E.g. mysql.default_port=4407

mysql\my.ini

Open the file and look for two lines like port=3306.  Change the port number to the one you have chosen – e.g. 4407 – port=4407.  There will be two lines like this in the file, one in the [client] section and one in the [server] section.

www\phpmyadmin\config.inc

This is the configuration file for the phpMyAdmin program that provides a graphical user interface on to the mySQL database.  Look for a line that starts with : $cfg[‘Servers’][$i][‘port’] and replace the port number in the line with (in this example) 4407.

And that, as they say, is that for the configuration files.  You can now start up the MOWES server system by running the mowes.exe program.  If all is working, after a few seconds your web browser will be started and will load the ‘home page’ of the MOWES installation.  With the configuration carried out in this article, the browser will show the url http://localhost:87/start/ and the page displayed will show links to WordPress, Mediawiki and phpmyadmin.

WordPress Configuration

The final stage of configuration is to make a change to WordPress that allows WordPress to run on a non-standard Apache port.  This needs to be done via phpmyadmin, as it involves directly changing database entries.  Open phpmyadmin, and then open the wordpress database from the left hand menu.

Now browse the wp_options table.  Find the record where option_name is ‘siteurl’ and change the option_value field to (for using a port number of 86) http://localhost:86/wordpress.  Now find teh record with option_name of ‘home’ and again change the option_value to http://localhost:86/wordpress.

Tidying Up

You may like to put an autorun.inf file on the root of your memory stick, so that when it is plugged in to a machine it will automatically start the MOWES system (if the machine is so configured).  The file can be created with a text editor and should contain the following:

[autorun]
open=mowes_portable\mowes.exe
label=Your Name for the Installation

And that’s that!

Enjoy!

Normal Service will hopefully be resumed…soon!

Regular readers will have noticed that the last few weeks on Joe’s Jottings have been a bit patchy in terms of the frequency of posts.  It’s been a perfect example of ‘life happening when you’re making other plans’ and I hope soon to be getting back to the ‘one post a day’ regime that I aim for on this site.

The reason?  I’m afraid that Mammon has had influence on me – basically a great deal of work to be done (which is good in the current economic conditions) as well as other commitments.  As  a trustee / committee member on a couple of charities, and Treasurer on one, this time of year is always a bit busy with year-ends, AGMs, etc. And then there’s the real world activities as well!!

I’ve actually missed blogging – it’s pretty easy to slip the habit of doing a daily blog post and I’m pretty sure that I’ll have my work cut out for a few days next week when I think I’ll be able to get back in to having enough time available to do the regular post each day, but it’s been a useful reminder to me that blogging isn’t part of my job, it’s a hobby, and therefore should occupy that part of my life also occupied by watching ‘Fringe’ on TV, playing amateur radio and avoiding gardening.

Some months ago I commented that I’d managed to build up a little stockpile of articles for use when the pressure was on – unfortunately I worked through those and now need to build that pile up again as well, so it looks like I’ll be having a busy blogging Bank Holiday at the end of April.

So, there you have it.  Normal service WILL be resumed…soon….ish….

Arrogance 2.0

Maybe I’m just old, or maybe I just don’t get some aspects of modern business – or are some people online purporting to be business experts just arrogant and opinionated folks with insufficient experience and a habit of stating the bleedin’ obvious as if they’d just discovered a Unified Field Theory?

And what triggered this off?  As frequently happens these days, I came across something on Twitter that just bugged the Hell out of me.  And it was the following:

“Book publishers. Stop talking about cannibalisation. Create and invest in businesses and services which destroy today’s model.”

I guess the reason why this statement annoyed me is that I’ve had books and magazine articles published, starting in the early 1980s, and I suppose I have an emotional attachment to the whole paper based ‘traditional’ publishing business.  One of the aspects of that business I like even now is that there was an element of quality control involved that the current ‘anything goes’ online world lacks.  Those nasty gatekeepers called ‘editors’ used to brass all of us off, but they at least ensured that what was published fitted the style of the magazine, was reasonably well written and was believed to be good enough for other people to spend money on.

Because the traditional publishing business did something that most modern online publishing isn’t managing to do – make money based on quality, focused product.  Why buy content when the Internet is full of it?  Getting people to buy text content is increasingly difficult and I’ve seen more than one magazine that I used to buy regularly go to the wall because of the free availability of published material on the Internet.  So what’s the problem?  The problem is that whilst there might be items of high standard on the Net (I hope I produce a few myself) what is lacking is the focus and selection that went in to a magazine – in one pace you had a series of relevant articles, of high quality.  Over the years we’ve kept getting the promise of ‘The Daily You’ online – a one stop web site which you will be able to configure in such a way as to get material that interests you.  That promise has never delivered.  Whilst there are a number of issues that I have with the concept in general (not going to go in to them here – that’s for another day) the basic problem is that whatever ways have been used to try and put something together that gives us relevant and quality content, like RSS feeds, it’s never quite worked.

To be told by someone ‘go and destroy today’s models’ sounds like iconoclasm of the worst sort.  Destruction of what doesn’t work is one thing;  destruction of a market place and set of products that does work is quite sad, especially when the new products and services coming to replace what is going has elements of ‘The Emporers New Clothes’ about them.  And a lot of ‘new media’ stuff does start with cannibalisation – when you aren’t paying for content, you start by linking to it, re-hashing it, etc.  Whilst there are markets for new, paid for content on the Internet it’s frequently poorly paid and provides little stimulus for authors to spend time in developing engaging content when they’re going to see very little recompense for it.

The freetard mentality is again coming through with so many of these Business 2.0 zealots – I have news for you.  Free doesn’t survive hard times.  It’s not enough to say ‘the content is out there, just find it’.  People like to pay for organised and focused material because it saves them time.  Destroying today’s models before there is anything to replace them is simply the business plan of the would-be market dictator – those who would come to lead a mediocre market with mediocre products because the good stuff has already gone to the wall.

Social Search…waste of time?

I’m a big user of search engines.  Despite my grumblings and pontifications on here about Google, I still use them the most because they’re still the best out there.  I hope that Bing – despite the daft name – will one day come to challenge Google, but until then, I just Google.  It’s been interesting recently to see Tweets start appearing in search results, and I’ve commented in this blog on the topic.  The most recent work being done by Google that they feel will improve the search experience for us all is explored in this piece from the BBC, and I’m particularly interested in the comments made about ‘Social Search’.

First of all, what is Social Search? 

My definition of a true Social Search tool is one that would give weight to a number of different aspects when searching.  These would include:

  • The normal search criteria as entered in to any search engine that you care to use.
  • Your location, intelligently applied to any searches that might be expected to have a geographical aspect to them.
  • A weighting applied to favour the results based upon material that meets the criteria you’re searching on that may have been placed on the Internet by people or organisations within your personal or professional network.

To give an example – you do a search for restaurants.  The search engine makes a guess about your location based on previous searches, geocoding based on your IP address or, coming real soon, tagging provided with the search request specifying your location based on a GPS in the device that you’re using for the search.  The search engine then determines whether your ‘friends’ have done similar searches, whether they’ve done any reviews or blog posts about restaurants in the area, posted photos to Flickr, or are actually Tweeting FROM a restaurant as you search, whatever.  The results are then returned for you – and ideally would be tailored to your particular situation as understood by the search engine.

And this is roughly what the Google Social Search folks are looking at.

“….returns information posted by friends such as photos, blog posts and status updates on social networking sites.

It is currently only available in the US and will be coming to the rest of the world soon.

Maureen Heymans, technical lead at Google, said this kind of search means the information offered is personal to the user.

“When I’m looking for a restaurant, I’ll probably find a bunch of reviews from experts and it’s really useful information.

“But getting a review from a friend can be even better because I trust them and I know their tastes. Also I can contact them and ask for more information,” she said.

In future users’ social circles could provide them with the answers they seek, as long as individuals are prepared to make those connections public.”

Of course, the million (or multi-billion) dollar question is how far are people to go in terms of making their networks available to search engine companies in such a way that results can be cross referenced in this way.  Once upon a time I’d have said that folks wouldn’t, as they value their privacy, but today I’m not so sure.  Given that we have seen sites where people share details about credit card purchases, I’m not convinced that people value their privacy enough to not allow this sort of application to take off, at least amongst the ‘digital elites’.

Of course, hopefully it will be up to us whether we participate in using Social Search – I guess all of us who blog or Tweet will find our musings being used as ‘search fodder’ unless we opt out of making our contributions searchable.  Will I use Social Search?  If it’s at all possible to opt out, No.  And here’s why.

Because I doubt the results will be as relevant to me as Google and all the other potential providers of SOcial Search think they will be.  Let’s face it – these companies will not be doing it for nothing – some where along the way the ‘database of intentions’ will be being supplemented and modified based upon the searches carried out, and such information is a goldmine to marketers and advertisers.

But the relevance to me?  I’m yet to be convinced – and here’s why.

If I really want the opinions of my friends, family and occasional business contacts on what I eat, wear, watch or listen to then I’ll ask them directly.  Just because I know someone doesn’t mean that I share any similarity in viewpoint or preferences at all.  I have friends with very different interests – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics  and Atheists, people from the political left and right, party animals and stay at homes…the differentiation goes on.  This is because I pick my friends based on what they’re like as people – not necessarily because they share interests or beliefs.  As it happens, I’m occasionally quietly offended by what some of my online friends say – but that’s life.  We don’t always have to agree or share the same beliefs.  

Therefore, the idea of biasing my search results based on what people I know search for, prefer or comment on is potentially useless.  If I wish to know what my friends think or say – I’ll talk to them, email them or read their tweets / blogs / whatever directly. 

I feel there’s also a serious risk of ‘crystalisation’ of beliefs – a sort of friendship groupthink emerging.  Think of what it was like when you were 13 years old and spotty.  For many teenagers it matters to be ‘in with the in-crowd’; Social Search could contribute to the return of that sort of belief structure amongst peer groups.  By it’s nature, the people who will be ‘opinion leaders’ in your Social Search universe will be those friends who are most online and who share the most.  Their activities will hence bias the results returned in Social Search.  It might not be such a problem for them, though – people who have a high Social Search presence will undoubtedly come to the attention of advertisers and opinion formers who might wish to make use of that ‘reputation’.

One of the great advantages of good, old-fashioned, non-social search is taht you will occasionally be bowled a googly (pitched a curve ball for my transatlantic friends!) that might lead you off in to whole new areas of knowledge.  You may be prompted to try something new that NONE of your friends or colleagues have heard of.  Whilst these results will still be in the results, if they’re on the second page, how many of us will bother going there?  We’ll become fat and lazy and contented searchers.

So….I think I want to stay as an individual.  For now, I’ll happily turn my back on Social Search!

Social Media and the mob

One of my favourite films is ‘The Fisher King’ – one of the most haunting scenes in it is where Radio ‘Shock Jock’ Jack Lucas repeats the words ‘Forgive me’ from a TV script he is hoping to star in, whilst, unbeknown to him, thoughtless comments made by himon his radio show have driven a mentally ill caller to take a gun to an upmarket bar and open fire on people there.  The next scene in the film is of him three years later in a drunken rage after his life has fallen apart in the aftermath of the shooting, with his anger being directed at the actor who DID get teh role.

A few words uttered thoughtlessly in a public arena; in the film it was talk radio, but today it’s just as likely to be Facebook or other Social Media.  Of course, Social Media is a valuable tool with which to organise groups that are angry at social and political issues, for example.  But there are also a number of groups that go beyond what is acceptable:

There have been similar items featured on YouTube and Twitter – and as long as there has been any sort of media – starting with the pub on a Saturday night – there have always been public threats made against people.  The reach of Social Media though makes these sorts of groups and viral campaigns different in some major ways:

  • Sheer numbers – let’s face it, with Facebook you have a potential audience of 400 million people for your campaign.
  • Persistence and visibility – until such a group is removed it’s there all the time and can be found via search engines inside the Social Media site and indirectly form outside the sites.
  • Speed of activity – something can grow rapidly – much more rapidly than any campaign arranged through traditional media.

The obvious immediate result of this sort of mobilisation is the generation of ‘flash mobs’ – often for very good causes – where groups of people assemble, do something. then disappear.  This can frequently be done in the space of a few hours, rather than the days or week traditionally required to get a traditional demo together.

However, a less obvious but more sinister aspect of the use of Social Media is what’s best called ‘validation’.  This is something I’ve touched on in a previous blog post here on Joe’s Jottings – ‘Gazing in to the abyss’ – and it’s possibly more dangerously relevant when we look at the role of Social Media in generating a good, old fashioned, pitch-fork and torch carrying mob.

If you’re one slightly disturbed individual who thinks that a public figure deserves death, then the chances are that until recently you’d find very few people who agreed with you – or even if they agreed with you, would be very unlikely to publicly state it.  Today, the world’s a different place.  Your views can find validation in a number of ways – someone may set up a ‘jokey’ ‘Let’s kill X’ group or web site; other nutters may be more serious about it; or you might see groups on the Internet who just don’t like the person.  And you might see all of these people as somehow validating your point of view – a little like Jack Lucas’s deranged listener.

Let’s just hope that we don’t have too many people saying ‘Forgive me’ as a consequence.