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September 8, 2007

Collaborative band name exchange

When you’re tempted to borrow the Dave Barry trope of adding “And, by the way, that would make an excellent name for a band,” you can share the name at NowFormABand, a site created by Aanand Prasad. Recent names include: Foxy Morons, Clot, CornSquat and Eat More Chemicals.

None of the names I saw match the pure, godawful ridiculousness of my band’s name in high school: Wheel and the Spokesmen. Even today I can play a truly awful rendition of “This Diamond Ring”…

(Link via Yesh Omrim.)


August 25, 2007

Victorian scholarship and the miscellaneous

Patrick Leary had a terrific article in Journal of Victorian Culture in 2005 that Alexander Macgillivray just pointed out to me. It’s called “Googling the Victorians,” and the premise is: “Fortuitous electronic connections, and the information that circulates through them, are emerging as hallmarks of humanities scholarship in the digital age. ” He’s got some great examples — tracking down the meaning of an 1858 cartoon’s “Remember the grotto!” caption — to make the point that “What is most striking, and often quite useful, about this sort of fishing expedition is how often the sources in which one finds a ‘hit’ are utterly unexpected.” Here’s another example:

…when searching for additional instances, beyond those I had found in print sources, in which the Saturday Review had
been referred to by its critics’ nickname, the Saturday Reviler. Google instantly
located the phrase in the following: a biographical account of Charles Haddon
Spurgeon, as a favourite epithet of his associates; the short-lived 1872 periodical,
The Ladies; an 1864 book about the contemporary stage magicians the Brothers
Davenport; an appendix, by Richard Burton, to his 1885 edition of Arabian Nights;
and a magazine account of a conversation with Frank Harris about his tenure as
editor in the 1890s.

Leahy goes on:

Such experiences reinforce the
conviction that the very randomness with which much online material has been
placed there, and the undiscriminating quality of the search procedure itself,
gives it an advantage denied to more focused research. It has been often and
rather piously proclaimed (by myself, among others) that googling around the
internet cannot possibly substitute for good old-fashioned library research, and
this is certainly true. But we are perhaps reaching a point in our relationship to
the online world at which it is important to recognize that the reverse is equally
true. No amount of time spent in the library stacks would have suggested to me
that any of those sources would be an especially good place to look for instances
of that particular phrase, and if it had, the likelihood of actually discovering
the phrase in a printed edition of any of them would have been virtually nil.

This is an excellent argument for reversing the current momentum of copyright law. Our culture benefits from having as much of this stuff searchable and available as possible. Since 19th century stuff is generally out of copyright, the Victorian scholars are in good shape, as Leahy notes. But why should our ability to research, learn and understand suddenly come to a galloping halt towards the beginning of the 20th century?

I don’t want to miss another of Leahy’s points: “…the vast reach of online
searching is connecting people, not merely with information, but with one
another, often in the most unexpected and fruitful ways.” [Tags: copyright scholarship google everything_is_miscellaneous ]

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August 23, 2007

Tagging, knowledge, and inverted clouds

Tim “LibraryThing” Spalding bought a box of copies of Everything Is Miscellaneous, Lor’ bless him, and decided to hold a contest of sorts to give the remaining dozen away. So, he asked people to comment on how tagging changes knowledge. Now he’s collected a sampling of the 170 replies. Great stuff.

Also, Tim now let’s you see a reverse (inverse? converse?) tag cloud, which he calls a tag mirror. He says:

Instead of showing what you think about your books—what a regular tag cloud shows—it shows you what others think of them, in effect using LibraryThing’s twenty-two million tags to organize and surface interesting topics from within your own collection…

Here’s a for-example. I don’t use the tags gender studies, patristics or theory. They’re just not terms I use. To some extent, that reflects who I am. But I have a fair number of books that, to others, fall under those categories. It’s interesting to slice my books up in an alien way—to see them through other eyes. Maybe I’m more interested in gender studies than I thought.

[Tags: everything_is_miscellaneous tim_spalding folksonomies tags tag_clouds knowledge ]

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Flickr metadata

Dave Winer has dug up and made presentable some of the metadata for Flickr photos. Flickr knows more than you think!

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August 20, 2007


Jason Fry in the Wall Street Journal writes:

The Net makes exploring the world and engaging with it easy in a way we’re only just getting used to. Within a few keystrokes, you can be digging into the news, indulging your curiosity, or foundering in an obsession or addiction. Practically speaking, you can communicate with most anyone you wish whenever you wish. And you can do so at a remove &mdash step away from the PC, or just hit the back button, and your engagement ends.

That remove can be a wonderful thing. It lets us indulge our curiosity almost as quickly as we can think, makes it easy to drop a line to someone we might not feel like we have time to call on the phone and allows us to be part of a community that may be too diffuse for real-world interaction.

The danger is that interacting at a remove can come to seem preferable to the messiness of the real world, where a greater commitment is required and interaction demands more of ourselves than it does in our compartmentalized worlds of browsers and digital personas. My apartment’s messy piles of papers and mottled floorboards are hard to model in Floorplanner, and it’s tempting to imagine a living room without them. But take them away, and my living room wouldn’t feel like home.

I’m not sure how broadly that last paragraph applies, but the previous ones make a good point. The ability to play what-if with ideas lets us run down dead ends faster than ever, which is an important benefit of the Web. Finding paths of thought that go nowhere is often the best way to find paths that maybe go somewhere. [Tags: wsj messiness everything_is_miscellaneous ]

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August 18, 2007

Adler, Keen and blogs

I enjoyed AJ Fortin’s post that trains a Mortimer Adlerian eye on blogs and those who make extravagant claims about them. (I seem to be his main example of the latter.)

And John Eischeid, who worked with NewAssignment, is starting a crowdsourced project addressing broad questions of the effect of crowds and crowdsourcing. It’s called “The Cult of the Rebuttal,” a reference to Andrew Keen’s book (which I’ve tried to explain and evaluate here), but it’s really focused on the topic, not the book. [Thanks to Andy Angelos for the link.] [Tags: everything_is_miscellaneous andrew_keen]


August 17, 2007

Wiki disinfectant

Wired is encouraging you to post the most egregious Wikipedia revisions here. Anonymity giveth opportunities for abuse. The crowd setteth right. [Tags: wikipedia marketing pr ]

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August 15, 2007

Hello, it’s the crowd calling on line 3

From Christopher Herot at Zingdom Communications:

The concept is very simple: you add this application to your Facebook account, give it your phone number (just US and Canada for now), provide some selection criteria, and wait for your phone to ring. You’ll be connected, for free, to another person on Facebook who made matching selections. You talk for a minute and it disconnects. You see their first name and their photo, but no other information, such as your phone number or profile, is revealed. At the end of the call, if both of you so agree, the application will re-connect you for a more extended conversation. Otherwise you can move on to the next person.

Chris warns that the app works best when there’s critical mass. Also, he writes (in an email): “To install it, you’ll need to add it to your Facebook profile. So, log into Facebook, then cut and paste the following URL into your browser. .”

I haven’t tried it. I’m not that social. [Tags: zing facebook social_networks ]

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Well-trained news

Paul Graham‘s Y-Combinator has come up with a variation on the Digg theme. Y-Combinator was the incubator for, a Digg-like site that was bought by CondeNet about a year ago, and Y-Combinator has been maintaining a site focused on news about start-ups. Paul — who is a superb writer and thinker, as anyone who has read his stuff knows — is now opening up its topics to news of interest to startups and hackers, which is a much wider range.

What’s most interesting (well, to me, anyway) are the changes the site is making in the social dynamics. Reddit, says Paul, became of less interest to hackers like him as it succeeded with a wider public. Since the readers determine what make it onto the site, that’s the price of mainstream-ish success. To keep HackerNews focused on news of interest to hackers — and presumably, to exclude the sort of tech tabloid stories that show up at Digg that may be of interest to hackers but irrelevant to hacking &mdash a team of techies will “train” the system on what are relevant stories and what are not. (Since Paul is directly responsible for the widespread use of Bayesian spam filters, the word “training” makes me think there’s an element of that here.) People who thumbs-up stories that the system thinks are relevant will gain authority within the system (their thumbs up and down will count for more), and those who thumbs-up irrelevant stories will lose authority.

In addition, the site’s comments will be moderated to maintain “civility,” i.e., not ad hominem arguments.

I suppose there may be purists who think this is a betrayal of the wisdom of the crowd. But there is no such thing as untouched crowdal wisdom. In every case, someone has made decisions about how to gather the crowd’s input, who counts as a member of the crowd, how much authority the crowd will have, whether and how the wishes of the minority are respected, what the means of redress are, what typeface should be used to announce the crowd’s decision, and a thousand more factors. No single crowd mechanism works for every issue. We need lots and lots of ways of creating collective understanding. HackerNews sounds like a very interesting experiment at the least, and quite possibly much more than that. [Tags: hackernews digg reddit paul_graham media news everything_is_miscellaneous wisdom_of_the_crowd ]

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August 6, 2007

BradSucks, the remix

BradSucks, the webbiest musician on the Web, has released remixes of his albums by more than a dozen other people. Some are pretty damn good.E.g., Bert Fonte’s mix of Fixing My Brain brings out Brad’s voice and lyric, just to pick one. But, then, I’m a sucker for Brad.

Open source producing. Gotta love it.

Brad also has a call out for artwork for his upcoming album. [Tags: ]

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