links for 2009-11-30

The decline of empire

Oh, I love a bit of infoporn and this is a truly glorious visualisation of the decline of the British, Spanish, French and Portuguese maritime empires by Pedro Cruz. (For a bigger version, pop along to Vimeo.)

Cruz explains:

The data refers to the evolution of the top 4 maritime empires of the XIX and XX centuries by extent. I chose the maritime empires because of their more abrupt and obtuse evolution as the visual emphasis is on their decline. The first idea to represent a territory independence was a mitosis like split — it’s harder to implement than it looks. Each shape tends to retain an area that’s directly proportional to the extent of the occupied territory on a specific year. The datasource is mostly our beloved wikipedia. The split of a territory is often the result of an extent process and it had to be visualized on a specific year. So I chose to pick the dates where it was perceived a de facto independence (e.g. the most of independence declarations prior to the new state’s recognition). Dominions of an empire, were considered part of that empire and thus not independent.

The wonderful thing about these sorts of projects is that they turn otherwise dry information into fascinating social objects.

Via David Weinberger.

links for 2009-11-28

Infoporn Friday

First up, David McCandless’ Billion Pound-O-Gram which very neatly allows us to compare how big various large sums of money are in relationship to each other:

billion pound-o-gram

Then there’s this Periodic Table of Visualization Methods. Mouseover each ‘element’ for an illustration of the method.

And finally, Pedro Cruz’s visualisation of the decline of the world’s four major maritime empires, which is just glorious. (Full-size version on Vimeo.)

Lovely, eh!

links for 2009-11-27

  • Kevin: Mike Butcher adds more detail on Microsoft's discussion with Rupert Murdoch's News International about 'de-indexing' their content from Google and being paid by Microsoft as an exclusive search provider on Bing. The most interesting tidbit: "Money talks, obviously, and we understand that the payments could be a) part in revenue share from advertising on Bing b) the inclusion of news partners in adverts for Bing. In other words, you’d start to see ads with “You’ll only find The Wall Street Journal on” etc."
  • Kevin: Brian Stelter reports: "A consortium of magazine publishers including Time Inc. and Condé Nast plan to jointly build an online newsstand for publications in multiple digital formats, according to people with knowledge of the plans." It's a so-called iTunes of news. I wonder if this will follow the eMag model that Axel Springer is following in Germany with additional digital content beyond
  • Kevin: "William Lewis, Telegraph Media Group editor-in-chief and now MD of digital, has outlined the strategy behind the newly created division."
  • Kevin: Jay Rosen is compiling a list of sources of subsidy in the production of news. It's a brilliant list that looks in great and growing detail at revenue sources for news production. It is well work bookmarking and checking as Jay and others add to it.
  • Kevin: Investor and tech watcher Fred Wilson points a new technology from the developer of audioscrobbler, the technology underpinning Richard Jones has now released a technology called Playdar. "Playdar is a "music content resolver" platform. You put the Playdar software on all the machines you have with music on them. And then Playdar makes it so that you can play your music via the web whenever and wherever you want."
    Open platforms and ecosystems are powerful and the music web needs more of them. I am excited to see where Playdar goes. I'll be following it closely and if you are into web music, you should too."
  • Kevin: An excellent post with some great data and analysis from Alison Gow, Executive Editor, digital, for the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post. She takes newspaper to task for claims that 'nobody else scrutinises our public bodies'. She says that the average local newspaper isn't a regular visitor to magistrates courts in the UK. She is working with the Press Association to look at new models of producing local accountability journalism, and she has the numbers to prove it. She also answers the charge from a commenter that newspapers local council and courts coverage is dominated by recycled press releases. Not so. It's great to see this kind of blogging and research going on from within journalism. It's inspired me to do more of it.
  • Kevin: My colleague Patrick Smith, writing for PaidContent, has a brilliant post on economic models that work online. Offline models transfer imperfectly to the internet. It makes sense because geographical isolation and the natural monopolies they grant aren't in operation. Content is both plentiful and searchable, and the high capital distribution economics of broadcast and print media aren't in play.
    Patrick offers alternatives and makes a succinct but compelling case. Engagement, not just marketing to drive page views, and rewards for loyalty could address inadequacies in the existing digital models for news organisations.

Merlin Mann’s Time & Attention talk

I love Merlin Mann’s way of thinking about productivity, the way that we work and our relationship with our working life. This is a great talk that he gave last year about, yes, Time & Attention. Merlin talks about our relationship to email, the usefulness of re-negotiation, and our need to recognise that our time and attention are scarce resources that we should prize more highly.

Well worth a watch.

The role of dopamine in social media

What is it that makes our inbox such an enticing place that we spend hours there every day? It’s a question that fascinates me, mainly because I have such an uncomfortable relationship with email. I get lots of it, am often slow to respond and frequently end up feeling guilty because my email has got the best of me.

Psychologist Susan Weinschenk puts the blame for our obsession on dopamine:

[T]he latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search.


It’s not just about physical needs such as food, or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes us curious about ideas and fuels our searching for information. The latest research shows that it is the opoid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure.

Wanting vs. liking – According to Kent Berridge, these two systems, the “wanting” (dopamine) and the “liking” (opoid) are complementary. The wanting system propels us to action and the liking system makes us feel satisfied and therefore pause our seeking. If our seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then we start to run in an endless loop. The latest research shows that the dopamine system is stronger than the opoid system. We seek more than we are satisfied (back to evolution… seeking is more likely to keep us alive than sitting around in a satisfied stupor).

A dopamine induced loop – With the internet, twitter, and texting we now have almost instant gratification of our desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type it into google. What to see what your friends are up to? Go to twitter or facebook. We get into a dopamine induced loop… dopamine starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, stop checking our cell phones to see if we have a message or a new text.

This sheds much needed light on why we spend so much time checking for new email only to then not deal with it when it has arrived, but there is more to the email problem than dopamine.

There are cultural problems around the use of email as a proxy for productivity; huge email loads being worn as a badge of honour by people who like to equate their inbox martyrdom with a commitment to work; and defensive emailing by people who feel so scared or insecure that they CC everyone. These issues around the sending of mail need to be tackled, probably before we try to tackle our dopamine-fueled inbox obsession.

But as Weinschenk points out, tools like Twitter are just as likely to “send our dopamine system raging”.

So if social media is as addictive as email, isn’t it pointless to try to replace one with the other? I don’t think so, no, because there’s more to it than trying to reduce inbox faffing, as important as that is. It’s also about improving sharing, findability, archiving, collaboration, conversation, staff relationships, morale and efficiency. These benefits, in my opinion, outweigh the potential flaws in the new tools.

We do need to be aware that social media isn’t without its problems, but understanding the fundamental biological and psychological processes that shape the way we interact with technology will help us to solve those problems. I look forward to watching and maybe even participating in the emerging field of technopsychology.

Is tendering right for social software projects?

One of the most important stages in building a relationship with a new client is, in my opinion, requirements gathering. Partly this happens even before a deal is struck, because consultants need to know top level requirements before they can put together a proposal.

Once work begins there’s usually a more formal and detailed requirements gathering phase during which one learns about the client as much through observation as direct questioning. This period of learning is crucial. To do the job well, one must understand how one’s client thinks, how they work, what they are expecting, what they know, not to mention figuring out what the client thinks they want and what they actually need.

This is at odds with the common procurement procedure of having multiple companies/consultants tendering to fulfil an already detailed brief. I came across one of these briefs just the other day and it was a stark reminder of how the tender process fails horribly when the client doesn’t understand what it is they are asking for.

The tender in question was very detailed: seven pages of background, contract objectives and deliverables, specifications, timetables and milestones, selection criteria and more. But whilst it’s great to see that they’d put so much thought into it, their basic premise was so deeply flawed that I can only imagine two types of people who would tender for the job as described: a naïf with no real understanding of social media, or someone with flexible ethics.

The tender process is setting the project up to fail. A responsible consultant would respond to the tender with a counterproposal, suggesting alternative avenues of exploration that would be more fruitful and constructive. I fear, however, that once a project is at tender stage, so much work has gone into it and so many colours nailed to its mast that it becomes politically difficult to turn the ship around.

The sad thing is, when the project fails it will be social media that is blamed, not the project’s central concept. And had the organisation in question spent a little bit of money up front working with someone who knows their onions, they could have saved a lot of money in the long run. Penny wise, pound foolish.

links for 2009-11-24

CoTweet: Twitter tools get collaborative

Searching for the perfect Twitter tool is a bit like searching for Shangri-La: You know it’s out there somewhere and you can find it if you just search hard enough.

I was a Twhirl addict for a long time, but recently switched to Tweetie as Twhirl was hammering my Mac’s processors a bit too much. Tweetie is more compact and has a better user interface, but there are things that it doesn’t do that Twhirl did.

Such is the way of Twitter clients. If you pooled all the features of all Twitter clients, you’d have all you need to create a spec for the perfect client, but no single client fits that bill yet.

When it comes to managing Twitter accounts in a business context, Tweetdeck is many people’s favourite, if only because it lets you save keyword searches. If you’re monitoring Twitter for mentions of your company, that’s invaluable functionality. But still has its drawbacks, including awful design and excessive demands on screen real estate.

CoTweet is a newcomer to the market, but already has an impressive feature set. Because it’s a web app rather than a local client, multiple people can manage multiple accounts. It also allows you to assign Tweets to a colleagues for follow-up action, with automatic email assignment notifications, and to make notes on individual Tweeters. That should help companies monitoring Twitter for customer care purposes make sure Tweets don’t fall between the cracks.

Other cute features include scheduled tweets and inline access to’s shortened URL stats so you can see how many people have clicked on a any given link.

CoTweet does need a bit of love and attention where usability is concerned, though. The interface is a bit confusing and, just like every other Twitter client, there are things that it could be doing but isn’t. I particularly like Tweetie’s conversation view, where when you click on a Tweet it will show you all the previous Tweets in that exchange, and I can imagine that might be useful for CoTweet users too.

Overall, though, CoTweet shows promise and provides a very different view of Twitter than most other clients. Definitely one to watch.