Humorous Public Information Channels

September 12, 2013 at 9:07 pm (computers, internet) (, , , , , , , , , )

More and more companies, services and people are using social media as part of their information channels to others.  You can get traffic information via twitter, local police information via Facebook, companies with blogs, pinterest, tumblrs and so on.

Most are run of the mill, ‘this happened’, ‘this will be happening’, ‘pay for this’, ‘safe money on this’ or just maybe ‘watch out for this’ type messages, but every now and again I come across someone who uses these new methods for communications in quite an inspired way.

The most recent example was the link up between Nestle kitkat and Google Android.  Google has a tradition of naming the latest version of their mobile operating system after confectionary, which is why you might hear the more geeky inclined talking about Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice cream sandwiches, Jellybeans … see the pattern?  Yes, the next release hotly anticipated in the geekery was to be K… what?  Kitkat ended up being the answer.

And wow, did Nestle run with it. was just inspired.  They presented the whole website in terms of technical specs, user experiences, versions … in short the presentation of a new piece of technology, but all talking about the humble kitkat.  “Eye candy that really does taste as good as it looks.”  If you read to the bottom, my favourite part by far was the small print:

“Wow this really is small print isn’t it? Look how tiny it is. How are you even reading this? Come to think of it, why are you even reading this?? This is no way to spend your break! You’ve just read all of that stuff about how awesome the KITKAT 4.4 is and you still haven’t run out and got one? Wow, tough crowd.”

Very inspired and really ceasing the moment.

Another interesting example of following the Internet flow (although not a social media example) was spam.  The makers of that small blue and yellow tin had an interesting choice on their hands when email became ubiquitous, as it wasn’t long before the word “spam” started to mean something else. came along in the 1990s and started the slow process of reclaiming the word, riding on the new use of the term and people searching for information about it on the Internet,

I think they just had to accept that no matter what anyone said, no-one would ever call spam email UCE (unsolicited commercial email).  So, grin, bear it and embrace it.  Including the reasoning for why unwanted email was called spam in the first place – forever tying tinned meat to Monty Python to computer networks.

“Use of the term “spam” was adopted as a result of the Monty Python skit in which our SPAM meat product was featured. In this skit, a group of Vikings sang a chorus of “spam, spam, spam . . . ” in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other conversation. Hence, the analogy applied because UCE was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet.

We do not object to use of this slang term to describe UCE, although we do object to the use of the word “spam” as a trademark and to the use of our product image in association with that term. Also, if the term is to be used, it should be used in all lower-case letters to distinguish it from our trademark SPAM, which should be used with all uppercase letters.”

There are times when a humourous account comes along that it just way more entertaining than an official communications channel.  My current favourite skit channel is the TLF Travel Alerts twitter.  It parodies Transport for London, who do actually have their own twitter feeds, but it is far, far more entertaining.  Here are some recent good tweets:

(I counted the cameras in Euston once … lost count after 150 or so)

You get the idea. So much more preferable, and often quite profound, compared to the normality of TFL (sorry).

But by far my favourite is the genius behind the Twitter account of Waterstones bookstore in Oxford Street.  I would love to know if this is an official account – it looks like it.  There is such a humble honesty in the humour in these tweets – my only personal gripe is that the tweeter is just a little too prolific for my own feed, so I don’t follow, just dip in and out.  But there are some real gems, and I often see them retweeted anyway.

Some examples:

Which reminds me of the fun they had when author Robert Galbraith was revealed as being none other than J.K. herself. Too much to quote here, but have a browse over this – lets just say they had a ball with this one. Oh go on then, just one.

Commercial use of social media at its best.


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Can I have some friction in my sharing?

November 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm (internet) (, , , , )

I’ve hated the idea of “frictionless sharing” ever since I first saw the Facebook Yahoo! app post to my Facebook wall that I’d read one of their articles (I instantly removed the post, remove the app, and haven’t clicked on a Yahoo! link since).

I share the view that I’ve now seen in a number of places – this might be frictionless but it isn’t sharing.  At best is automatic visibility.  Sharing is something you do when you make a conscious decision that someone else might be interested in something you have to say.  It is curation or cultivation of some context that you have filtered out from everything else and decided is worthy of a wider audience.  It is making time to make a point (like this blog post perhaps) and making a, hopefully small amount of effort, but still a conscious effort, to pass it on.

The use of social media is a performance – it is constructing a view of ourselves that we would like others to see.  Most hope that their status will be construed as witty, intelligent, cool or be looking for some reaffirmation from friends or some token of support or validation of their actions … whatever, but the point is that this is all part of someone saying “this is me”.

So when I see apps that automatically post that so-and-so has read such-and-such an article, and is listening to this or that, I often wonder if that is part of the image that the person is happy to be presenting.  Often it is – but sometimes you wonder why someone is reading a specific article.  Of course what is missing is the reaction to the article.  Yes I might read an article about something, but did I like it?  Did I agree with it?  Did it disgust me?  When I had to click “Like” to get it listed on Facebook, that would give a clue.  When I have to click “share” to post it, I get the option of some context as to why I’m posting it.  When the app posts on my behalf, noone has any idea about the context of my reading it and may attempt to draw their own conclusions (most of which will almost certainly be incorrect).

I fully subscribe to the idea of people have private thoughts to experiment with ideas and consider a range of options before making up their minds about something.  They should be free to follow a range of links about a topic, many they won’t agree with – only then can they get a well-rounded view of it all.  But in an age of “frictionless sharing” will people start to think twice before they click on a link or see a film or watch something on TV or listen to that track?  Will we slowly breed a society of banal conformity?

Well maybe there is hope – it would appear that the idea of automatic posting may be starting to take its course.  Yes it might be good for Facebook to decide that telling your friends that you’ve clicked on something will increase their internal hit counts and encourage your friends to click too, which helps their ad business … but it would appear that some are starting to question it too.  At last.

You used to be able to pick up a book or read an article and keep the knowledge of the activity firmly in your own head.  This is a good thing.  Lets hope it’s not too late to turn that around.

Further reading on this topic:


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An Elite Circle of Friends

November 1, 2012 at 9:46 pm (internet, odds) (, , , , , , , , )

Now this is an intriguing idea – from a post on failblog – run your Facebook account with a strict friends limit, say of 10.  Then when a new friend request comes in, only accept it if you are willing to delete one of your existing friends …

Well, according to Dunbar’s number, we can only cope with social groupings of 150 or less anyway – and massive Facebook friends lists don’t change that no matter how many people shout to have more than 5000 listed on the site.  In fact, what is a friend anyway on such sites?

In fact, there are social networks that limit your number of contacts – Path does in fact limit you to 150.  But if that is still too many, at the other extreme is Pair – the social networking tool to share and communicate with just one other person.

I wonder if you could combine the ideas of chatroulette (“Broadcasting nudity or suggestive content is not allowed” – yeah right) and facebook and create a friendroulette service – a social network where you always have, say, 20 friends total but every day a new friend is added and one is taken away.

Maybe it could be limited to certain common interests, or maybe just completely random (although probably assuming you speak the same language otherwise it might be a bit pointless).

Or how about a musical chairs social network?  Start with 100 friends, but everyday one drops off the list?  Maybe you get the option to keep the winner as a permanent contact?

Or maybe a network where you are only allowed to add a new friend if someone else has added you and if someone unfriends you, it randomly drops someone from your own list too.

Or possibly a network where you had to earn friendship – it would automatically add you once your paths have crossed a few times and you really have a connection and something to share with each other.  And if you stop talking to each other, the connection fades until its gone completely (a bit like an ant trail).

Geo-fenced social network?  Your list of friends only consists of those who have been in the same physical location that you are now in during a set time period – maybe the last week.  As you move around, the list of people changes creating a link across time to the same space.

Would be one way to beat the Filter Bubble at any rate and introduce a little serendipity back into meeting people.


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Listening to Numbers

October 31, 2012 at 11:19 pm (art, computers, interesting, internet, music) (, , , , , , , , , )

I get Make Magazine and from time to time find something that peaks my (software related) curiosity.  This time it was an article about making synthesized music from data using the algorithms from Dr Jonathan Middleton’s Music Algorithms website –

Basically this takes a sequence of numbers, scales it to a pitch range you select, gives you options for translating pitch – e.g. scale backwards, replace specific notes with another note, use division or modulo arithmetic, etc – and then gives you options for applying a duration to each note – either a fixed duration or using a scaling formula.

Finally you have the option to play it, download it as a MIDI file or see it in a crude representation of notation.

There are a number of ‘preset’ options to get you going – I experimented listening to pi, the Fibonacci sequence and their ‘chaos algorithm‘ using ranges of 0 to 88 (a full piano range) and 40 to 52 (basically an octave starting from middle C).  I tended to use a fixed duration of 0 or 1 as it went by suitably quickly and kept things interesting.

Then I thought I’d try something a little different.  Using the option to ‘import your own sequence’ I took a wander over to Google Trends.  This plots the frequency of people searching for specific terms over time.  If you login with your Google account you can download the results as a CSV and then its trivial to open it in a spreadsheet, select the column of results and paste it into the Music Algorithms form and listen to what something sounds like.

For my own entertainment, I had a listen to the following:

  • Default ‘swine flu‘ search that Google Trends offers.  This works well scaled 0 to 88, as the pitch then mirrors the graph quite well.  I didn’t paste in all the zeros, just the portion with the shape and got a nice quickly peaking and decaying piece.
  • Facebook is a good one … it goes from continuous low through a slowly rising scale, increasing in pitch and frequency of change as time moves on, finally tinkling along in the high register as search frequency fluctuates.  This would be a really interesting one to do with number of users, scaling from Mark Zuckerberg as #1 up to user 1 billion …
  • Considering the date, Halloween was an interesting one – you get a random sounding very quickly rising and falling scale and then silence … the ration of silence to scale is around 1 in 12 funnily enough and the pattern repeats 8 times (for 2004 to the present day) … this works well with a duration of 0 across the full piano range – nice and quick.
  • The text ‘music algorithms‘ generated a curious pattern – reasonably random around a specific value, but that value has slowly decayed over time.
  • Then I tried a whole range of whatever came into my head looking for an interesting graph – seeing fluctuating searches, lots of rising trends – then finally settled on Tim Berners-Lee.  Not sure why!  But that gives a nice, angry sounding (especially on duration zero) left-hand piano line for the majority of the data set, generally getting slightly lower, adding to the angry nature, until there is a quick high flourish representing him appearing in the Olympics opening ceremony!

I only played the MIDI files back using the standard instrument, i.e. a basic piano sound. It would be really interesting to actually use some of these data sets to define a synthesized timbre too.  Could be the start of a very interesting musical piece.

What would be really interesting is to hook it up live to some Google or other Internet stats and then allow you to hear what is going on, say on Twitter.  A bit like a musical version of The Listening Post.  Maybe that could be a job for my Raspberry Pi



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Crowdsourced personal data coming to a profile near you

May 2, 2012 at 5:40 pm (computers, internet, security) (, , , , , , )

I’ve slowly been (finally) getting to grips with the Facebook friends lists feature and have been noticing some interesting side effects of using it.

First of all, I finally know how to get Facebook to stop censoring my newsfeed.  You add people to your “close friends” list, then you get every gory detail.

So next – do I want my lists to be cumulative or exclusive?  Do I want close friends to appear in acquaintances as well?  I opted for exclusive – if they are on one, then I won’t put them on the other.

Restricted friends – i.e. those friends you want to list (for whatever reason, friends hardly ever means “friends” on Facebook) that by default, you are happy to not see what you get up to.  A smart move by Facebook as by giving this built-in censoring people will be happy to divulge more to the social network “safe” in the knowledge that their boss, parent or otherwise “don’t want to unfriend but don’t want to broadcast to” contact won’t see it.

The “smart lists” are interesting too – grouping those to have openly admitted to going to the same school, working at the same company or otherwise are members of something that is shared with you.  But I notice that Facebook still offers up the rest of your friends as suggestions for adding to these lists too.

So, if I haven’t volunteered a piece of information – say which school I went to – but a number of my friends have, then it would be natural for them, if using the school smart list, to “add” me to their list for their school.  The upshot is that even if I didn’t want to tell Facebook what school I went to, they don’t need me to anymore.  The chances are that at least one of my friends will have put me in their “school” smart list.

This is like other people tagging me in photos but without me being able to opt out.

Crowdsourced personal tagging.  Nice one Facebook – you seemed to have snuck that one in on us all and managed to align the incentives so that people will do it because its useful to them.  Clever.

What’s next I wonder – smart lists for interests, sexual orientation, age, location?  Oh yes, they already do that one – anyone I’m friends with can now tag me as a “local” friend and tell Facebook where I am whether I wanted to tell them or not.

Ok, so how about a generic framework for me to create my own list, add a set of people and then use the Facebook “like” system to categorise it in a way that is meaningful to me – with the side effect of telling Facebook everyone who (in my opinion) likes banana ice-cream, whilst building lego models at Justin Bieber gigs  (or whatever criteria I’ve chosen to use).

And of course you’ll have no idea of how others have classified you.  And you’ll have no option to refute it.  I wonder how long it will be before there is a healthy third-party marketing business to work the system.  How about a company paying people a penny to classify their friends with an interest in their product, so that ads for it float to the top of their Facebook page?  You can already run “campaigns” to get more likes, visits, page views and so on (the scary one is paying $0.13 to “create a gmail account for me” … no prizes for guessing what that might be trying to circumvent …).

Getting your friends to “out you” on Facebook.  Creepy yet?  Oh yes.  Good job that is a long way into the future … ahem, well actually, maybe it isn’t.

And of course, just deciding not to be part of this is probably non longer an option.  Even if you’re not on Facebook, it probably doesn’t need you to be anymore – your friends can tell it all it needs to know.  Just imagine the advertising opportunities for Facebook that already exist from sending emails to those not yet on Facebook based on what their friends have already volunteered about them.



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Whats your royal wedding name then?

April 21, 2011 at 8:35 am (computers, internet, security) (, , )

Heard an odd thing on the radio this morning – people inventing their royal wedding name by starting with Lord/Lady, using a great-grandparents forename and then creating a double-barrelled surname by taking the street where you live and appending the name of your first pet.

I think they missed a trick here – they should have asked for your mother’s maiden name, the street where you were born and your first pet’s name.  That way you’d have the answers to three of the common ‘I’ve lost my password’, “security” questions …

In fact, why not write a Facebook or iPhone app that asks all these but also creates a “the first”, “the 2nd”, “the third”, etc hashed from your date of birth – then you’d get that too.

And while we’re at it, ask for Facebook credentials and post it to your wall (most people won’t know you don’t actually need to give a site your username and password for them to post to your wall, that Facebook provides federated identity services to third party sites).

Actually I’d be surprised if said app doesn’t already exist … let me know if you find it 🙂


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Its a hoax (oh no it isn’t … is it?)

December 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm (internet) (, , , )

There has been some interesting commentary about the recent (well, a week or so ago now) fad on facebook to change your profile picture to a cartoon character in aid of raising awareness about cruelty to children.  It has led to media coverage, claims it was started by peodophiles, claims that its all a hoax, descriptions as a great example of slacktivism and many parodies, claiming that facebook has solved child abuse (including this CNN parody pic).

It does appear to have increased traffic to the NSPCC website and caused an upsurge in donations, so by what measure do you measure a hoax and increased awareness?  Ok, so maybe the vast majority of people did nothing more than just change their profile picture, but maybe a small number of them did actually donate.  And maybe more will remember the issue when its comes to thinking about supporting a cause in the future.  Who knows.  The NSPCC did acknowledged the support from the campaign via its own facebook page.

Regardless of your views on this particular campaign, it cannot be denied that if a cause like this catches peoples imaginations, it can spread very quickly.  Slacktivism or not, social media can amplify significantly.

Of course, if the message that was spreading was somehow contrary to the views of the organisations it is claiming to support, then it might be a hard force to work against too …



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Get Safe Online week coming up …

November 12, 2010 at 5:32 pm (computers, internet, security) (, , , , )

Apparently it is going to be ‘Get Safe Online week’ next week.

Well, I’ve recently heard that something like three quarters of all cyber crime incidents – phishing, malware, ID theft, credit card scams, possibly even dodgy phone calls, and so on – could probably be stopped if people followed some basic ‘cyber hygiene’ rules such as can be found on sites like Get Safe Online –

So, in the interests of doing my bit, I would strongly recommend having a browse through the site.  In fact, why not get ahead of the crowds and do it today!

Another good place to go for general information, especially about safe and sensible use of online social networks, is the Information Commissioner’s Office – see

Couple more resources to consider – Own Your Space – a free e-book download, and Facebook have a security page with useful info.


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Augmented Identity

May 1, 2010 at 7:01 pm (computers, interesting, science) (, , , , , , , )

I first saw this demo quite a while ago, but could not remember where.  Well, whilst browsing through some videos from New Scientist, I found a clue and now have found the video again.

Its a marketing video from a Swedish company called The Astonishing Tribe.  And its certainly a very interesting view of a potential future.  There are lots of applications for Augmented Reality and mobile phones, but one ‘holy grail’ still eludes people – accurate face recognition.

The desire is to have a mobile application that you can use to hold up your phone, have it recognise the person its pointing at, and then have it give you information about that person.  If a social setting, maybe their Facebook profile. If a business setting, maybe a LinkedIn profile.  If they are giving a seminar, maybe a link to their slides on SlideShare.  Imaging sitting in somewhere like a busy station and being about to browse some basic information about the people nearby in the same was as one can currently do inside a virtual world.  Thats the kind of thing people are thinking about at the moment.

Well, this company has an application, Recgonizr, that uses face recognition technology from Polar Rose, called FaceLib, that would appear to be a step in that direction.  We may still be a long way away from recognising random strangers in a busy station, but this demo of theirs is still very impressive.  More details from the readwriteweb.


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Bad Parenting blamed for Farmville bill

April 12, 2010 at 9:36 am (internet, kids) (, , , , , , , )

Got  a link to this story this morning.  An interesting read.  Some kid managed to rack up £900 worth of credit card bill playing Farmville, oh well, it had to happen sooner or later.  Nothing more to say about that, the mum seems very pragmatic about the whole thing.  At least he didn’t buy a car on ebay.

What I found astounding though, is some of the comments to the post. I scanned to about half-way down and just had to stop reading.  Most were saying ‘hey, you can’t blame anyone else, bad parenting is the cause!’. Well, really, have any of these people ever seen a 12 year old or actually played these games?  Yes its stealing, and it sounds like there have been sanctions, but to say things like ‘I don’t think any 12 year old should have a mobile phone … all that stuff should come about between 16 – 18’ and similar comments?  Some just don’t seem to have any appreciation of how much social life is conducted via a phone or online these days.

When I think of what used to happen when I was growing up – going on trips, courses, holidays, events, whatever and having that low when its all over, and you won’t see anyone to talk about your experiences for a week or so.  Not so today.  The pictures are on Facebook.  They are talking about the trip for weeks on MSN.  They are still exchanging texts.  Even people who couldn’t come on the trip can participate if someone is posting comments and pictures as they go on Facebook.  Its just such a different world.

As for those suggesting that she should have had full awareness of what the kid was doing online … well, companies spend a fortune on auditing and monitoring employees behaviours for security. It is not a trivial problem!  Yes, you can turn on Parental Controls, yes you can log everything they do … but is anyone really suggesting that any busy mum can only let a child use the Internet when someone is watching or will have time (and the knowledge) to retrospectively examine what they have been up to?

The other main suggestion – lock up your credit cards.  Hmm.  Yes, that is practical in a busy household!  Not to mention never typing it in, saying it over the phone or leaving it laying around where anyone could get the number …

Like any new tool or technology, it can be used for good or ill.  You can’t police everything a teenager is going to do. All you can possibly hope for is to give them a sense of what is good or bad, safe or unsafe, responsible and not. They will always make their own mistakes, sometimes with extreme results like giving in to the temptation to start spending on a parent’s credit card (but then its not like Farmville actively discourages any spending from anyone!)  All you can really hope for is that they learn from their mistakes.  And yes, maybe a paper round or doing jobs would be the answer to this specific one (how long would it take to pay back £900 I wonder)!

The biggest problem is in providing an addictive game, but when all is said and done that’s essentially Zynga’s business model (as is Runescape, World of Warcraft, and all the rest), to people with no disposable income.  But thats a common problem.

Everyone has opinions, but some of those shared in the comments to this story are quite scary.  You’ve been reading mine.

Nod to Tervicz for the link.


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