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August 2005

Broadband and the Cluetrain: Cambridge blue(s)



Hmm … (via Loïc Le Meur). Add to this the poor take-up rate for Our Social World ('Our Social World is about bringing business leaders of today into contact with the visionaries and tools that are creating a new social environment, one which spans continents, timezones and cultures; Our Social World is about enabling conversations between businesses and their customers using the new tools made possible by the WWW; Our Social World is about generating dialogue instead of the monologue of PR, press coverage and adverts' — also via Loïc Le Meur) and Tom Coates' earlier posting about the lack of UK start-ups, and one could easily feel glum.

For all the changes of the last 20 years, I have to say I feel that Hugh, seeing us from the standpoint of insider-outsider, has got hold of some things that are still true about British society:

The Brits hate any kind of new "social" media. They prefer "socialised" media, thank you very much. They still equate media with glamor, authority, privilege and the domain of the establishment. The idea that JUST ANYONE can have a voice they find vulgar and offensive. … The Cluetrain is happily chugging away. Getting a seat on it is not a God-given right, it's an individual decision. It has nothing to do with who you know, what school you went to, who your tailor is, what pub you drink in, or what political party you voted for. Which is why most Brits don't see it.

But the ones that do, of course, are starting to have the time of their lives.

Having said which, about this particular conference I think Henriette Weber Andersen is right in her comment on Loïc's blog: for those of us who went to Reboot, Our Social World duplicates too many of the speakers. (Plus, the cost of Reboot was excellent: most of us bloggers cannot afford conferences aimed at the business world.)


Overturning the tables: Google and VoIP

John Naughton in today's Observer:

VoIP has all the characteristics of a profoundly disruptive technology - that is to say, one which threatens to undermine the business models of huge companies. And because its potential victims are telcos which have invested billions in specialised networks and infrastructure for carrying revenue-bearing voice and data communications, it potentially makes Napster look like a tea party. …

Nobody I know in the industry doubts that, in the long run, almost all telephony will be done via the net, simply because it's the obvious way to do it. The $64 billion questions are: how do we get there from the Skype/Gizmo chaos of today, and how long will it take? By throwing its hat into the VoIP ring, Google has signalled that a really big player has arrived on the scene - and that could indeed be significant in the long run. …

Since its inception, Google has stuck to three basic principles. The first was to build and maintain the most powerful computing cluster ever seen. The second was to employ smart engineers and marketers to figure out revenue-bearing services that could be provided with such a system. The world knows Google for search, but that merely happened to be the first application that came along. The third (and perhaps the most important) article of Google faith is that the internet will in the end become the world's operating system - the hub of everything (including telephony), with the web browser the dominant user interface.


Google Talk


Here.

Inside Google's overview, here; Download Squad review, here ('Another big feature they're working on is "joint search," which would allow two or more Google Talk buddies using Google and surfing the web together'). John Battelle: 'Apparently all you need is a Jabber-compatible IM client (like iChat) and a gmail account. Now folks, tell me this is not a major community play. Just tell me'. Smash's World explains how to set it up for use with iChat, GAIM, and Trillian.


Yes!

Tom Coates writes of FooCamp:

It's absolutely clear to me that the whole reason for the event is the people and therefore the opportunities for creative collision and friction. As such, it has a tremendously collegiate non-competitive feel to it, with everyone believing that the best way to make great things and change the world is to share ideas and learn from each other.

This is exactly what I felt and feel about Reboot. It sounds excessive to say so, but nothing that happened during my five years at University quite compares with the excitement and stimulation of Reboot — because of the collegiate opportunities for intense, 'creative collision and friction'. I would add, also, how essential to the experience was the inter-disciplinary nature of the event — another feature of Reboot where my university experience compares badly: I was reading widely for myself back then, but my courses of study were fundamentally self-contained and introspective, one or two inspiring influences apart.

Tom Coates goes on:

As Danah has said, it's incredibly depressing and conflicting that this kind of event just doesn't scale well enough to let in all the people who should be there. I'm more than aware that there are hundreds of people in the world who would have had more to contribute to this event than I, and I was surprised to be invited and was humbled by the stature of many of the other participants. I think Danah kind of hints at something interesting when she talks about the parallel BarCamp, and about the nature of competition and alternatives. Perhaps a competitive market in collaborative events could be a way to achieve fairness - or maybe that makes the divides wider. Maybe it's impractical to think about collapsing hierarchies, and we should instead be proliferating them wildly - cut in all kinds of different directions, removing a sense of one embedded power structure and replacing it with hundreds of parallel, orthogonal ones. I don't know - scarcity of time, attention and resource have always been problems and we all have a responsibility to try and work out ways to alleviate them. In the meantime, all I can say is that FooCamp was a hell of an experience, and one that I'd delighted to have been able to attend.

Cost is also an issue, Tom! I was amazed, and immensely grateful, that my school sent me and Ian to Copenhagen. It shows vision and institutional commitment of a kind I've simply never encountered before in secondary education. But it couldn't stretch to San Francisco!

He's right: we have to find ways of opening up these experiences to as many people and budgets as possible. I am convinced that the future lies in this kind of collaborative, inter-disciplinary approach to work, play and learning. Educators have got to be brought into this.


Sejanus

We want the fine Arts, and their thriving use,
Should make us grac'd, or favour'd of the times:
We have no shift of Faces, no cleft Tongues,
No soft and glutinous Bodies, that can stick,
Like Snails, on painted Walls;

To Stratford last Thursday, to see the RSC's production of Ben Jonson's, Sejanus: His Fall (text here). It's the first time I've seen it, it's the first time the RSC has staged it and, according to Michael Billington, it's rarely been revived in the last 400 years. It held me — an excellent production of a play of considerable political cynicism and savagery that speaks readily to our time.

Sejanus seducing Livia, wife of Drusus

Michael Billington (Guardian):

What is startling about the play is how it straddles three time periods. It is a neo-classic tragedy about ancient Rome. It is also rooted in Jacobean power politics and, in its study of a master-servant relationship, anticipates Volpone. Yet it is easily applicable to modern times. When Sejanus announces that the way to advance Tiberius's rule is "to present the shapes of dangers greater than they are", he speaks like a devious CIA boss. But the book-burning evokes Hitler's Germany and when Sejanus's statue is torn down we are into Saddam Hussein's Iraq. All the play lacks, apart from good female roles, is any first-hand encounter with the people themselves.

But the mastery of Doran's production lies in its blend of psychology and politics. William Houston's superb Sejanus is a pony-tailed, bisexual adventurer for whom power is the ultimate aphrodisiac: I shall long remember his triumphant leap at the prospect of becoming Tiberius's heir. With equal skill, Barry Stanton plays the emperor as a consummate political actor; stepping round a trail of blood on the senate floor, he distances himself from the violence he sanctions.

Even if virtue is marginalised, Geoffrey Freshwater, James Hayes and Nigel Cooke are outstanding as a trio of troubled patricians recalling Rome in its heyday. And both Paul Englishby's brass-filled score and Robert Jones's pillared setting evoke a world of decadence. But what truly exhilarates is the rediscovery of a play that shows Jonson's understanding of both the practical mechanics and insane corruption of power.

Dominic Cavendish has a review in the Telegraph and there's a shorter piece by Benedict Nightingale in the Times.

The King's Men performed Sejanus in 1603, Shakespeare acting in it (probably taking the role of Tiberius). The text we now have may differ from that of 1603: Jonson said 'a second pen' co-wrote some sections that he removed subsequently. A disastrous reception at the Globe was followed by official censure, the playwright being called before the Privy Council to answer charges of treason and popery. (Did this charge lead to Jonson revising the play?)

Anne Barton says: 'Tragedy normally draws in towards a centre, vested either in an individual or a family. But Sejanus flies out in all directions, providing no clearly defined focal point. … Like the comical satires, and unlike Jonson's first three Jacobean comedies, Sejanus is a large-cast play. It crowds the stage with people, many of them glimpsed only fleetingly. Major characters spring up … without warning, or abruptly disappear from view … None of these people are, in any obvious sense, humour characters. Most of them will end up dead, as opposed to being merely humiliated and disillusioned. All the same, this is tragedy only in a very special sense.'

At times closer to satire, frequently fascinated by the grotesque and savage, the play ends on a note of terrible brutality, the instigator (Tiberius) safely absent and indulging himself in Capri — and with a further cycle of betrayal and violence to come since Macro, apparently loyal to Tiberius, has aligned himself with Caligula. The distance between us and Sejanus is so different from the bond we form with Volpone, yet both plays have at their heart a master-parasite relationship (as Billington notes). Volpone grows out of Sejanus, but also marks a most significant development in Jonson's art as he came to create a focus through our 'subversive sympathy with the clever rogue' (Martin Butler, programme note).

Scene V.iv is the encounter with Fortune, the one deity Sejanus has time for. Earlier (II.ii) he had said,

'Twas only fear first in the world made gods',

but in V.i he tells Terentius, 'Her (Fortune) I, indeed, adore; / And keep her grateful image in my house'. Brilliantly directed, V.iv might have brought us at last to something of that core experience of tragedy, where men and women come face to face with forces that rule their lives. (Auden: 'We are lived by powers we pretend to understand'.) However, confronted by unfavourable signs from the goddess, Sejanus now mocks Fortune and her rites as superstition — 'juggling mystery, religion', 'cozening ceremonies' — and it doesn't come across as hubris but precisely as impatience with superstition. I think Anne Barton is right to say that in Jonson, 'such things (as the ominous signs from Fortune) become not only suspect but incipiently comic'. She goes on: 'Jonson, in this play, makes trifles of terrors instead of ensconcing himself in an unknown fear. The result is to strip away a dimension upon which most classical, as well as Elizabethan and Jacobean, tragedy had depended. For him, the very considerable horrors of Tiberius' Rome derive entirely from the brutality of the way men behave to one another, not from any sense of the mysterious workings of Fate or divine will.'

The discontinuity between Sejanus' "atheism" and his downfall, the lack of interiority (Cavendish: 'failure to establish … characters whose fates you care about'), disappoints some. I wonder …  I remember that Mitterand was once asked what the most important political quality was. He replied, 'l'indifference'. Isn't part of the appeal of the play (I hope it prospers now) that it offers a view of the political world which is frightening precisely because it is presented as a world where interiority is not cultivated, where, beyond the short-term satisfaction of revenge, victims, opponents and compatriots are quickly forgotten? It's a world that's absurd, savage, repetitive, cyclical … and destined to self-consume. Unless Fortune, the one deity worth believing in (for a while), smiles on you: then, you're a successful snail, excelling at sticking on painted walls (for a while).


Calcium Made Interesting

Calcium Made Interesting is the title of a newly published collection of Graham Chapman's writings. Chapman (1941–1989) has been called 'the only true anarchist in Monty Python' (Jonathan Lynn). Trained as a doctor, but turning to comedy sketch-writing and then emerging as a comedy actor/performer, he nearly ran on to the self-destructive rocks of alcoholism. Michael Palin:

His restless ever-inquisitive need to be freed from the boring and the conventional had led him to the brink, but his cautious disciplined rational side saved him at the last minute from toppling over.

Eric Idle said of Chapman's A Liar's Autobiography, 'This is life viewed as comedy, that only a doctor faced constantly with the physical comedy of our bodies can see'.

John Cleese's famous speech at Chapman's memorial service can be read here and a clip viewed here:

I remember his being invited to speak at the Oxford Union, and entering the chamber dressed as a carrot---a full length orange tapering costume with a large, bright green sprig as a hat----and then, when his turn came to speak, refusing to do so. He just stood there, literally speechless, for twenty minutes, smiling beatifically. The only time in world history that a totally silent man has succeeded in inciting a riot.

I remember Graham receiving a Sun newspaper TV award from Reggie Maudling. Who else! And taking the trophy falling to the ground and crawling all the way back to his table, screaming loudly, as loudly as he could. And if you remember Gray, that was very loud indeed.

It is magnificent, isn't it? You see, the thing about shock... is not that it upsets some people, I think; I think that it gives others a momentary joy of liberation, as we realised in that instant that the social rules that constrict our lives so terribly are not actually very important.

The new book is reviewed today in the Telegraph by John Preston (not online — yet?), and two things in this piece caught my attention:

From the start he seems to have been beset by conflicting impulses: orthodoxy on the one hand and extreme unorthodoxy on the other. When he was a child, Chapman once put a chair in the kitchen sink and sat on it for several hours in order to gain a different perspective on the room.

And the other, a stage direction to a script:

A corridor, fairly butch.

And then there is this quotation, via Eric Idle: 'After all, who of us in our lives hasn't set fire to some great public building or other …'


Commerce, innovation and Web 2.0 (again)

I do believe we are living through a momentous change in the history of culture and technology for which, at least in part and currently, 'Web 2.0' serves as a useful, if sometimes over-charged, short-hand. As an educator, I am preoccupied with what this change is and how teachers and schools respond to it. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, in his much bookmarked interview with the BBC, talked of his wish for the web when it is 30 years old: he hopes it 'will be something which is sunk into the background as an assumption. Now, if as technologists develop, we've done our job well, the web will be this universal medium, which will be very, very flexible. It won't, itself, have any preconceived notions about what's built on top.' I am conscious that much of my posting this summer has been a series of soundings into what the web is, where it is going and where it is taking us.

*****

Greater inter-connectedness, of which blogging is a significant feature, alters markets — for better, for worse.

Naked Conversations, the blog of the book that Shel Israel and Robert Scoble have been co-writing, saved me a lot of time when I wanted to put together for my own reference the history of that touchstone example, the sorry Kryptonite affair. In chapter 10 of the book, 'Doing it Wrong', they describe the course of this debacle (and there's a follow-up here). Jason Calcanis talked about the Kryptonite affair at Reboot and it's a story illustrative of the power of blogs in the commercial sphere that everyone should know about, along with the Kensington notebook computer lock story (also in c 10 of Robert's book). Stephan Spencer's recent post about Kryptonite (with its superb visual presentation of the course events took) has these killer conclusions:

10 months later, online Kryptonite still publicly suffers from the aftermath. … it’s not their home page that ranks #1 or #2 for “kryptonite” in Google, but their product recall pages that bloggers had Googlebombed to those top positions. Worse yet, the #5 position is occupied by a blogger (Engadget.com) who rails on Kryptonite, complete with video. … the top Google results for your company name endure long after you’ve been blogstormed.

Recently, I came across this from Adam Greenfield, a more traditional tale of innovation-meets-stone-wall: 

The story is that Dyson went about thinking about what a vacuum cleaner should be from the ground up, and, having gone through some fanatic number of prototypes ("5,127" is the figure given on the Dyson site), offered his vision to the leading appliance manufacturers, none of whom were interested. … It was clear to the executives of companies like Hoover that the Dyson cleaner, while offering its users superior performance and a highly-enhanced experience, threatened the foundations of the lucrative business model they had grown dependent on. And what business model is that? The answer is something you have suspected for most of your life, but it's nice to see common sense so roundly confirmed: the appliance makers typically make very little profit on selling the machine. Where they get you...is with the bags. The proprietary-design, mutually-incompatible, hard-to-find-the-kind-you-need bags. 

Dyson's innovative design freed the consumer from reliance on bags. Dyson's innovative design pleased customers but spelled headaches for manufacturers addicted to the bag-revenue stream. Said innovator was shown the door. (Have I spent too long in technology if I see a clear parallel here with Sony's continual blunders with proprietary formats and eventual acquiescence, in the face of massive consumer non-interest, to more open standards?)

It seems that innovation is now moving centre stage as a key commercial "virtue". At the beginning of this month, BusinessWeek online reported on the 'Creativity Economy':

What was once central to corporations -- price, quality, and much of the left-brain, digitized analytical work associated with knowledge -- is fast being shipped off to lower-paid, highly trained Chinese and Indians, as well as Hungarians, Czechs, and Russians. Increasingly, the new core competence is creativity -- the right-brain stuff that smart companies are now harnessing to generate top-line growth. The game is changing. It isn't just about math and science anymore. It's about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation.

Stanford University has started 'a design school where managers can learn the dynamics of innovation. Teaching elephants to dance is never easy, but that's the task ahead if you want your company -- and your career -- to prosper.' Will the elephants learn to dance, or will they, rather, behave like giant sharks, snapping up clever ideas and small start-ups?

By good fortune, I had supper recently with Marc Canter, over here on business and lodged temporarily in England's little version of Silicon Valley (M4 corridor, Reading/Wokingham). We talked about music (Brian Eno — more about that soon) and, of course, technology, microformatting and DLAs. Marc is a walking repository of the history of computing and software innovation over the last 30 years. I learned a lot and ended the evening with a reinforced impression of how tough the entrepreneurial tech world is: the innovative young man or woman with bright ideas may never see their innovation through to full and independent realisation. In this context, it was heartening to hear from Marc about MySQL's honour code "contract" for payment, their great financial results and the 40,000 MySQL downloads per day.

A lot of young hopefuls out there, then, aiming to catch an innovation fast train. This is the age, we say, of mass amateurisation, of web content by and for the masses, of mass collaboration shaking up business, a new architecture of participation, the Pro-Am Revolution.

Paul Graham, in his latest essay, 'What Business Can Learn From Open Source', is very upbeat about the bottom-up economy of innovation:

… ideas can bubble up from the bottom, instead of flowing down from the top.  Open source and blogging both work bottom-up: people make what they want, and the best stuff prevails. Does this sound familiar?  It's the principle of a market economy. Ironically, though open source and blogs are done for free, those worlds resemble market economies, while most companies, for all their talk about the value of free markets, are run internally like communist states. There are two forces that together steer design: ideas about what to do next, and the enforcement of quality.  In the channel era, both flowed down from the top.  For example, newspaper editors assigned stories to reporters, then edited what they wrote. Open source and blogging show us things don't have to work that way.  Ideas and even the enforcement of quality can flow bottom-up. And in both cases the results are not merely acceptable, but better.

I more than warm to this, but I also share Matthew Gertner's caution:

Paul is spot-on in his assertion that open source (and, less convincingly, blogging) has achieved prominence because it harnasses the same forces more efficiently than a rigid corporate hierarchy. His prescriptions, however, strike me as facile. He suggests, in essence, that we should all quit our day jobs and start our own companies. He sidesteps a host of potential objections by assuming that his audience is composed entirely of “young hackers”. Fair enough, it probably is. But having quit my day job and started my own company, I can say with some confidence that it isn’t for everyone. People have different personality types, and some are better adapted to the endless excitement, but equally endless stress and uncertainty, of the start-up lifestyle.

There's an infectious and beguiling utopianism about Web 2.0 talk that, without successful start-ups, will disappoint. There are three necessary "parts" to the Web 2.0 experience, as summarised in Wade Roush's Social Machines, MIT's Technology Review's cover story for August:

The arrival of continuous computing means that people who live in populated areas of developed countries (and increasingly, developing ones such as China and India) can spend entire days inside a kind of invisible, portable “information field.” This field is created by constant, largely automated coöperation between

1) the digital devices people carry, such as laptops, media players, and camera phones,

2) the wireline and wireless networks that serve people’s locations as they travel about, and

3) the Internet and its growing collection of Web-based tools for finding information and communicating and collaborating with other people.

(Gene Becker comments: 'In your definition of continuous computing, you might consider adding: 4) and the devices they encounter along the way, such as situated displays, networked entertainment systems, printers, and connected vehicles.' We are just around the corner from these situated networked devices becoming active participants in our digital experience. I wonder if you also want to pull in physical-tagging notions [RFID, bar codes, semacodes, visual tags, etc.] as the physical hyperlinks that bring everyday objects into the digital mix. In the same spirit, GPS and other location technologies are starting to make physical place a first-class element of the digital experience'. See also Jyri's post). All three have to fly. To quote Gertner again: 'Open source development principles may mirror those of the market economy, but without real capitalism in the mix they’ll never fly on a large scale'.

I can't end without quoting Wade Roush's conclusion, which takes us full circle, back to Sir Tim's remarks (above):

    … this, in the end, is what’s truly new about continuous computing. As advanced as our PCs and our other information gadgets have grown, we never really learned to love them. We’ve used them all these years only because they have made us more productive. But now that’s changing. When computing devices are always with us, helping us to be the social beings we are, time spent “on the computer” no longer feels like time taken away from real life. And it isn’t: cell phones, laptops, and the Web are rapidly becoming the best tools we have for staying connected to the people and ideas and activities that are important to us. The underlying hardware and software will never become invisible, but they will become less obtrusive, allowing us to focus our attention on the actual information being conveyed. Eventually, living in a world of continuous computing will be like wearing eyeglasses: the rims are always visible, but the wearer forgets she has them on—even though they’re the only things making the world clear.


Jean Charles de Menezes and the fog of news

Last night, Channel 4 News led (see here and here) with the circumstances immediately leading up to the shooting dead of Jean Charles de Menezes on the tube at Stockwell (22 July): 'it was a catastrophic failure of intelligence - ending in the death of an innocent man mistaken for a suicide bomber'.

An official inquiry is underway into the fatal shooting of the young Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes - a tragedy shrouded in confusion from the start. Now tonight, leaked documents and photographs from that report reveal just how badly the police operation may have gone wrong.

The Observer reported on the death of de Menezes at the weekend: 'He wasn't wearing a heavy jacket. He used his card to get into the station. He didn't vault the barrier. And now police say there are no CCTV pictures to reveal the truth. So why did plainclothes officers shoot young Jean Charles de Menezes seven times in the head, thinking he posed a terror threat?'.

Today's papers and the death of Jean Charles de Menezes: The Independent, The Times. Wikipedia has an entry on Jean Charles de Menezes. The IPCC enquiry is yet to be completed.

Myths and untruths are everywhere in the aftermaths of the July terror events in London (see my post of a couple of days back), whereas press and media coverage about these events needs to be as informed and discriminating as possible — now that so much is at stake. On 7 July, Christopher Hitchens wrote:

Europe is steadily becoming a part of the civil war that is roiling the Islamic world, and it will require all our cultural ingenuity to ensure that the criminals who shattered London's peace at rush hour this morning are not the ones who dictate the pace and rhythm of events from now on.

And on 8 July, Ian McEwan:

… we will face again that deal we must constantly make and remake with the state - how much power must we grant Leviathan, how much freedom will we be asked to trade for our security?

Footnote: how did I learn, before last night's TV news, of the Wikipedia article and the Observer report? Via Canadian bloggers … Thank you, small flightless bird.


Yahoo!'s edge?

'Isn't Smaller Just Better?' asks Christian Mayaud.  Barb at geeked.org posted:

Yahoo and Google are having a pissing contest. If only they had more women engineers to clue them in that size doesn’t matter nearly as much as how frequently you can deliver the best results. 

Size isn't the key, but leveraging the wisdom of your crowd of users may be. Over at tecznotes, Mike posts a recent Vox Delicii snapshot and asks questions about del.icio.us posting trends and the role of del.icio.us users who bookmark helpful/timely URLs (as evidenced by others subsequently bookmarking those URLs): is del.icio.us 'being used as a meta-bookmarking service' and are 'highly-popular bookmarks … themselves pointers to the real content'; are CollaborativeRank's "helpful users" helpful 'because they are quick on the draw, or because other users look to them for interesting places'?

It's the leveraging power of community bookmarking services that's now proving so useful to end-users: 'I end up checking Y!MyWeb2.0 each morning to see what links i should read' (Danah). Where does this leave search-engines? Kevin Kelleher has a good article in TheStreet.com (15 August), 'Yahoo!'s Brainpower'. Highlights:

… it's far too early to write off Yahoo!, which has been steadily, if quietly, building a stable of brilliant researchers on its own. Under the leadership of Usama Fayad, Yahoo!'s chief data officer, the company has brought in its share of intellectual caliber, most recently in the hiring of Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo! Research, as well as a research partnership announced with the University of California, Berkeley.   

So, with all of the Google hype, why would any brainiac go work for Yahoo!? Raghavan and others at Yahoo! offer two compelling reasons: First, Yahoo! has the Rosetta Stone of online customer data. For 10 years, it's collected the daily search, email, financial and entertainment habits of users, which number in the hundreds of millions today. And second, by extension, that data open up a lot of areas of research beyond search -- including fast-developing areas such as social networking, user interface and data mining.

"There's no bigger collection of data on this planet. We're collecting 10 terabytes of data a day, and that doesn't include Web pages and 'html' content, which may be the primary focus of someone at Google," says Raghavan, a research veteran from Verity and IBM. Raghavan is also a Stanford consulting professor and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery.

"There's a tremendous opportunity here to address the mass consumer that has never really happened before in history," he says. "We get to study data and networking effects that show how people catch on to trends. And we get to study how to monetize all this, so there's an economic angle as well."

So, while Google workers may be feasting on arugula with dried apricots and capelin pesto, Yahoo!'s researchers are pigging out on deep data showing how online communities are built, how consumers open themselves to the long tail of entertainment niches and why sensible people would create and publish content without being paid a cent for it. Those questions are tightly woven with search technology, but extend well beyond it. …

In a nondescript office building in downtown Berkeley, a quarter-mile from the outskirts of the University of California, Yahoo! is starting an experiment that may have a significant impact on its future strategy. It's partnered with Professor Marc Davis, who came to Berkeley from MIT's pioneering Media Lab, to collaborate on work that Davis began in his Garage Cinema project. … Davis is already working closely with Yahoo! properties like Flickr, one of the earliest success stories in social networking. From a research standpoint, Flickr is something of a puzzle: How did a photo-sharing site develop a fiercely loyal community around it when Friendster, with all of its money and deep finance, couldn't? By watching how Flickr's community functions and grows, Davis can try to tackle an even bigger question: How can Flickr's niche-community DNA be replicated on a vastly larger scale -- say a community of 200 million global users? Yahoo! is betting research will help it create such a community, not simply react to them after they are built elsewhere.

Barb posted (socialsoftwareweblog) about her social bookmark wish-list. I commented there (#2) and referred to Ian Davis' idea of integrating into Google searches a user's RSS feed of his/her bookmarks (del.icio.us, etc). But this is still pretty much the "lonely user" model of search. Yahoo! is well set up to make searching much more of a collaborative affair.

I stumbled across the piece from TheStreet via Thomas' Off the Top feed, where his del.icio.us links for 15 August can be found. Subscribing to a number of del.icio.us user feeds has proved invaluable to me for many months, part of a wider conversation of which "traditional" searches now seem just a part.


The London Bombings

23 July, Matthew Parris in The Times:

AT TIMES of national emergency, the habit of the news media to drop a story or a lead in mid-air when it seems to be going nowhere unsettles the public. The media betray a sort of sheepish wish to “move on” from an erroneous report, hoping that their audience will not notice. Rather than acknowledge this, they publish a new report, leaving us to compare it with what had previously been said — and draw our own conclusions. Or they start barking up a different tree, the inference being that the last tree may have been the wrong tree. … the enormous, insidious and mostly unconscious pressure that exists to talk up, rather than talk down, the efficacy of al-Qaeda. When all the pressures are to talk up a lethal characterisation of the forces at work, we need to be supercool in the way we look at these reports.

From today's Independent:

The front page leads with:

The suicide cell that killed 52 people on 7 July is not linked to those alleged to be behind the second London attacks on 21 July, according to the initial findings of the biggest anti-terrorist investigation held in Britain. An investigation into the four suicide bombers from the first attacks and the people alleged to be behind the July 21 plot has found no evidence of any al-Qa'ida "mastermind" or senior organiser. The inquiry involved MI5, MI6, the listening centre at GCHQ, and the police.

The disclosure that the July 7 team were working in isolation - and were radicalised by Mohammad Sidique Khan, the oldest man - has caused concern among anti-terrorist officers. Police and MI5 fear it increases the chance that more "self-sufficient" units similar to the July 7 suicide cell are hiding in Britain. Anti-terrorist officers are worried by the evidence that previously unknown "clean skin" terror cells are forming in Britain with little or no help from abroad. The alleged plotters behind the July 21 bomb incidents in London are thought to have been "copycats", targeting Tube trains and a bus.

The intelligence assessment was made in the past few days. "The key point is that the events are not connected," said one counter-terrorist source. "It appears they were self-contained, rather than being organised by some kind of mastermind. "It is concerning that none were on the intelligence radar. There are quite probably others we do not know about out there. Over the past 10 years, we have been successfully disrupting a number of groups of people who could have carried out bombing attacks similar to those we have seen in the past few weeks. We can't disrupt them all. They only have to be lucky once - and they have been. At some point there will be another suicide or bombing group." …

A police source said: "All the talk about 'Mr Bigs' and al-Qa'ida masterminds looks like something from a film script at the moment. Of course, things could change if new intelligence comes through, but it looks increasingly as if these people were largely working on their own. It is not something we expected." … Senior police sources in West Yorkshire suggest that gyms and boxing clubs in Leeds - rather than mosques - were the key to the development of the young men into bombers.