Sunday, 27 February 2011

How books used to be made

Thanks to my colleague - Conrad Taylor - for pointing me at this. A fascinating video showing how books were made before the introduction of digital typesetting and electronic publishing. As Conrad observes in the comments: "Some ...assume that the digital age has replaced the printing press. Not so! Most books and magazines are printed by offset lithography. So things are digital up to the point where the litho plate is imaged — but intricate, complicated and huge machinery takes over from that point onwards!"  

However, my recent foray into e-books (having just purchased a Kindle) does remove even the heavy machinery dependency. With more and more content available in electronic form,  I'm wondering whether the printing press will be obsolete within 50 years?

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Saturday, 26 February 2011

Fake social media friends to promote propoganda

For most savvy users of social media, this article won't come as any surprise. After all, the ability to bulk-create false personas has been with the hackers and marketeers (now I come to think of it, an apt bracketing of these folk) for some time. The fact that government might see this as an opportunity to influence opinion is also something that shouldn't really surprise. We might naively think that any government would only turn this power on its enemies, not its own citizens, and in open and democratic societies where government can be brought to account this is probably the case. However, whilst we witness evidence of how social media can facilitate the destruction of power (Egypt, Tunisia - and maybe Libya), we can be reasonably sure that most governments are looking into ways into which it can be controlled and manipulated.

Maybe worth 'de-friending' a few of those people on Facebook that you didn't know but connected to anyway, and as a general mantra - don't believe every blog, tweet and message you receive unless you can validate the source. Who knows, maybe this item is a bluff!

Amplify’d from

It's recently been revealed that the U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion on controversial issues by promoting propaganda. It could also be used as surveillance to find public opinions with points of view the powers-that-be didn't like. It could then potentially have their "fake" people run smear campaigns against those "real" people. As disturbing as this is, it's not really new for U.S. intelligence or private intelligence firms to do the dirty work behind closed doors.

EFF previously warned that Big Brother wants to be your friend for social media surveillance. While the FBI Intelligence Information Report Handbook (PDF) mentioned using "covert accounts" to access protected information, other government agencies endorsed using security exploits to access protected information.

It's not a big surprise that the U.S. military also wants to use social media to its benefit. Last year, Public Intelligence published the U.S. Air Force social media guide which gave 10 tips for social media such as, "The enemy is engaged in this battlespace and you must engage there as well." Number three was "DON'T LIE. Credibility is critical, without it, no one cares what you have to's also punishable by the UCMJ to give a false statement." The Air Force used the chart below to show how social media influences public opinion.

The 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base sought the development of Persona Management Software which could be used for creating and managing fake profiles on social media sites to distort the truth and make it appear as if there was a generally accepted agreement on controversial issues. "Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms." What happened to don't lie and the Uniform Code of Military Justice?

Everything revealed after Anonymous leaked emails from private security firm HBGary Federal is disturbing on many levels. However, the Daily Kos said with the Persona Management Software it would take very few people to create "an army of sockpuppets" which could distort the truth while appearing to be "an entire Brooks Brothers riot online."

So again I ask, what happened to number three . . . the rule about not lying that was also "punishable by the UCMJ to give a false statement"?

President and CEO of Plessas Experts Network, Inc, Kirby Plessas pointed out some of the unethical and potentially illegal activities that Aaron Barr's leaked emails suggested like "Chumming and baiting" which sounded like "entrapment of some sort." There would be no warrant for the data collected on individuals which could then be stored for how long? "THIS is the entire reason Intelligence Oversight was created - to avoid this sort of thing from ever happening again."

According to Redacted News, the leaked emails showed how names can be cross-referenced across social media sites to collect information on people and then used to gain access to those social ciricles. The emails also talked of how Facebook could be used to spread government messages:

Even the most restrictive and security conscious of persons can be exploited. Through the targeting and information reconnaissance phase, a person's hometown and high school will be revealed. An adversary can create a account at the same high school and year and find out people you went to high school with that do not have Facebook accounts, then create the account and send a friend request.

Under the mutual friend decision, which is where most people can be exploited, an adversary can look at a targets friend list if it is exposed and find a targets most socially promiscuous friends, the ones that have over 300-500 friends, friend them to develop mutual friends before sending a friend request to the target. To that end friend's accounts can be compromised and used to post malicious material to a targets wall. When choosing to participate in social media an individual is only as protected as his/her weakest friend.

Lots of people have multiple online aliases, Facebook or Twitter accounts for both business and private life. What most bothers me is the lying and seemingly unethical means to an end. Although the government says it doesn't approve of censorship, etc, when its secrets come to light, it seems to be Okay with recommending underhanded tactics.

Secretary Clinton delivered a speech called, "Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices and Challenges In A Networked World." To help promote and support Internet freedom, the State Department intends to award $25 million in grants. While that is great news, the EFF reported, "For every strong statement about preserving liberty, freedom of expression, and privacy on the global Internet, there exists a countervailing example of the United States attempting to undermine those same values."

Secretary Clinton later told "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpou that most Americans "are in favor of human rights, freedom, democracy. We know that ultimately the most progress that can be made on behalf of human beings anywhere is when those individuals are empowered, when they have governments that are responsive." Clinton added, "At the same time, we recognize that this process can be hijacked. It can be hijacked by both outside and inside elements within any country."

So while the U.S. government can talk a good talk, what it does and what it says often doesn't seem to jive. Gasp, I know, it's not a big shocker but sometimes I find that utterly frustrating. The President wanted an Internet Kill Switch, the FBI keeps pushing for backdoors on all-things-Net. What happened to a code of ethics? Does it disappear behind closed doors, dirty deeds done in the dark and used against the American people who are supposed to be free to express themselves?


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Yahoo! Announces shutdown of MyBlogLog

Another of Yahoo!'s web services bites the dust. I'm a user of the service, as I am for Delicious, another of Yahoo!'s services that they identified as wanting to off-load in an announcement they made last month (January). It's a pity because I've found both of these products/services incredibly useful. Apart from their utility the other - often unrecognised - consequence of the demise of these services is the loss of several years personal investment in building social equity. So, it will soon be back to obscurity for me!

Amplify’d from

Users of MyBlogLog, a start-up that Yahoo acquired in 2007 for about $10 million, received an e-mail early today announcing the service's demise.

The announcement is not exactly a surprise. MyBlogLog was one of the Yahoo services listed on a leaked presentation screenshot from December as a property that would likely be sold or shut down as the troubled Yahoo cuts costs.

Yahoo, MyBlogLog

Ahead of its time in a sense, MyBlogLog built widgets that site owners could install to show which MyBlogLog members read their blogs--the same philosophy that now powers, for example, widgets displaying Facebook members who have "liked" a site. The original leaker of the screenshot was Eric Marcoullier, the founder of MyBlogLog, who no longer works at Yahoo.

The service will be formally discontinued on May 24, and people who have paid for a "premium" subscription to MyBlogLog past that date will receive refunds.

Other Yahoo products that face potential shutdown or sale include Yahoo Buzz, a one-time competitor to Digg, and Delicious, a bookmarking site that still has some very loyal users. Other products, like Fire Eagle and, were marked for mergers or consolidation; so far, few of the expected shutdowns and mergers have actually happened.


Sunday, 20 February 2011

Android’s dominance in mobile ecosystem should translate to better quality medical apps

More evidence that open systems and open standards are more likely dominate social business and the socia, web? I think so.

Amplify’d from

Android was the most popular mobile platform at the end of 2010, according to a press release by Canalys, a technology research and consultancy group.  Smart phone shipments topped 100 million units in the fourth quarter of last year, with Google-OS based phones accounting for 32.9 million—almost a third of all smart phone shipments.

This news is good for all interested in smart phone technology, not just Android devotees.  Indeed, sales of Apple smart phones almost doubled (from 8.7 million to 16.2 million).  The Nokia, RIM (Blackberry), and Microsoft growth lagged behind the overall growth of the market, but still posted respectable sales numbers (Nokia still grew 30% from last year and ranks second in platform sales this year at 31 million).

The story that will continue to be pushed from these data, however, is the explosion of the Android platform compared to its competitors.  While Apple’s market share is stable (16%), Nokia, Microsoft, and RIM market shares all dropped to make room for an Android ascent to the top.

See more at

Friday, 18 February 2011

Is something wrong with Google?

I think the last two paras say it all for me:

"The risk with Google's steady stream of new features is that most will not click with enough consumers. But it's just as likely that people will tire of Facebook's walled garden and migrate over time to a more open, socially-structured web that exists beyond the Facebook empire. That open web is the realm Google has helped us navigate for the past decade through search.

If the AI platform Google is building piecemeal proves to be as helpful in navigating a post-Facebook web as its search engine was before we all joined social networks, then it's future is far from over. It's only now beginning."

Google is putting its jigsaw pieces to together to create something much bigger than the sum of its parts. The problem for most of us is that we don't what the picture on the box looks like. Maybe the key question is...does Google?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

OFT clears national addressing database joint venture  - The Office of Fair Trading

The proposed joint venture combines the spatial address databases of Ordnance Survey and the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency (LGID), to create the National Address Gazetteer, a database of accurate geo-referenced addresses in England and Wales. This data is relied upon by the public and private sector to accurately locate addresses when delivering services such as public transport, road maintenance, utility management and emergency call-outs.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Stephen Wolfram: Can he topple Google? | Technology | The Guardian

I don't know about Google, but Mike Lynch (Autonomy founder) eat your heart out! Having frequently used the WolframAlpha website I can testify to the fact that it is as close as you'll get to a state of the art semantic web search engine. And it's getting better the more data that it indexes and links. Who wants to pay for a half a £millon Autonimy licence when you can achieve much the same for free!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

ID Card Database Destroyed

May the National Identity Scheme rest in peace. Maybe all those people who were persuaded to fork out for the cost of an ID card can claim a refund (good luck with that!). Is anyone betting that it won't get resurrected under some future administration? I'm not!

Amplify’d from
Shredded identity database

A database built to hold the fingerprints and personal details of millions of ID card holders has today been publicly destroyed.

Around 500 hard disk drives and 100 back up tapes containing the details of 15,000 holders have been magnetically wiped and shredded.

They will soon be incinerated in an environmentally friendly waste-for-energy process.

This signals an end to the National Identity Register which was built to hold the details of people who applied for an ID card.

The scheme was scrapped by the coalition government and the cards ceased to be valid legal documents on 22 January.

Home Office minister Damian Green helped shred the last of the hard disk drives at an Essex industrial site today.

'Laying ID cards to rest demonstrates the government’s commitment to scale back the power of the state and restore civil liberties,' he said.

'This is about people having trust in the government to know when it is necessary and appropriate for the state to hold and use personal data, and it is about the government placing their trust in the common-sense and responsible attitude of people.

'This is just the first step in the process of restoring and maintaining our freedoms.'

People can no longer use the cards to prove their identity or as a travel document in Europe.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) (new window) has written to all cardholders and informed international border agencies, travel operators and customers of the change in law.

For more information about the decommissioning of the National Identity Scheme and for frequently asked questions, visit the IPS website (new window).


Why Some Twitter Posts Catch On, and Some Don’t

If you read nothing else, check out the last para: "If we keep seeing the same links and catchphrases ricocheting around our social networks, it might mean we are being exposed only to what we want to hear...You might say to yourself: ‘I am in a group where I am not getting any views other than the ones I agree with. I’m curious to know what else is out there,’”

A message here for narrowly-focused campaign groups and the limitations of over-specialisation. Serendipity and trusted referrals can broaden your knowledge and enable you to discover new perspectives around your core interests.

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AMID the talk last week of a Facebook revolution across the Middle East, Americans and other English speakers took to Twitter — to post about their love lives.

Hashtags — the community-driven shorthand used to identify conversation themes — like “icantdateyou” and “worstpickuplines” were vastly more popular a few days ago than ones like “Egyptians” or “jan25,” a reference to Day 1 of the Egyptian protests. In just one hour last Tuesday, “icantdateyou” racked up nearly 274,000 mentions on Twitter, with posts like “icantdateyou if all you wanna do is fuss” and “icantdateyou if you look like your brother.”

Alas, poor “Mubarak” rated fewer than 11,000 during the same hour. (Many Egyptians could not post on Twitter because their government had temporarily cut off most Internet and cellphone service.)

Sure, many of us are more inclined to toss off frivolous posts than politically charged ones. But a new study of hashtags offers some insight into how and why some topics become popular quickly online while others don’t.

People generally pass on the latest conversational idioms — like “cantlivewithout” or “dontyouhate” — the first few times they see them on Twitter, or they never adopt them at all, according to the study by computer scientists. The researchers analyzed the 500 most popular hashtags among more than three billion messages posted on Twitter from August 2009 to January 2010.

“Idioms are like a sugar rush,” explains Jon Kleinberg, a professor of computer science at Cornell and a co-author of the study. “You see it once, you either use it or you don’t, but the rush wears off.”

More contentious themes like politics take longer to catch on, the researchers found. People tend to wait until they have seen a more polarizing phrase — like “sarahpalin” or “hcr,” short for health care reform — four, five or six times on Twitter before posting it themselves.

We already know that people often influence one another’s behavior. That is the monkey-see-monkey-do premise behind advertising. And it may seem intuitive that different kinds of information spread differently on the Web.

Now, however, researchers at Cornell and a few other universities like Stanford are finding patterns in the way information catches on in cyberspace. Their models could be useful for politicians, social activists, news organizations, marketers, public relations teams and anyone else trying to reach their target audience — or market.

It turns out that the way information spreads online is often more complicated than viral transmission, in which one person passes a link to, say, a YouTube video directly to another person. As with political topics, people often wait until a number of friends or trusted sources have promoted an idea before promulgating it themselves.

The structure of a social network — for example, whether it is made up of close friends and colleagues or of like-minded strangers who follow Lady Gaga — can have more influence than the size of a group, researchers say.

In real-world terms, that means designers of iPhone apps may be better off trying to get a plug from a leading technology blogger than from Ashton Kutcher, even though Mr. Kutcher has more than six million followers on Twitter. A smaller, more connected network might be more likely to respond to a recommendation from one of its own valued members, says Jure Leskovec, an assistant professor of computer science at Stanford.

In one recent study, for example, Professor Leskovec and a colleague analyzed a set of more than 170 million blog posts and news articles over a one-year period. They identified the thousand most popular phrases in the material and examined how those phrases spread over time via news agencies, newspapers, television and blogs. Content from news agencies tended to spike and gain the most attention immediately, while news that started on blogs or was picked up by bloggers often experienced several peaks or rebounds in popularity as time wore on.

An earlier Stanford study found that bloggers, over time, had more influence than mainstream publications in areas like technology or entertainment.

Professor Leskovec says the studies provide a quantitative way to predict which stories will hold attention and which will fade rapidly, based on who covers the material first. In a few years, he says, “we will be at the stage where marketers will be more mathematical and less intuition-driven.”

The research seems to validate the techniques that many industry experts are already using, says Sunil Gupta, a professor at the Harvard Business School who teaches digital marketing. Marketers are moving from an intrusion strategy of running ads in the middle of TV programs to a more cooperative model in which they try to stimulate discussion across social networks. Automakers that loan next year’s car models to influential car bloggers to test drive are just one example, he says.

“In the traditional world, marketing used to focus on the middle part of the bell curve and reaching out to them,” Professor Gupta says. “Now, the way to reach out to the middle part is through the extreme ends of the curve.” Those extremes, he says, include vocal detractors as well as ardent fans.

But the leaders of online packs aren’t necessarily happy about being emulated, he found in a 2009 study of Cyworld, a social networking site in South Korea where millions of members can buy virtual décor for their home pages.

He found that its members of middling status — having a modest number of social connections — bought more products based on friends’ purchases. But the most active, most connected users made fewer purchases. In other words, influencers value their uniqueness and often resist peer influence.

SO what does all this mean for you and me?

If we keep seeing the same links and catchphrases ricocheting around our social networks, it might mean we are being exposed only to what we want to hear, says Damon Centola, an assistant professor of economic sociology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“You might say to yourself: ‘I am in a group where I am not getting any views other than the ones I agree with. I’m curious to know what else is out there,’” Professor Centola says.

Consider a new hashtag: diversity.


Sunday, 6 February 2011

Assessing the business benefits of social business

The latest surveys continue to show the social computing provides real business benefits, but is it really as rosy as all that? Dion Hinchcliffe takes a closer look at what benefits are consistently reported with Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business while looking at where the actual value lies.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Social media users grapple with information overload -

In a way, comforting to know that I'm addressing the right problems with the Knowledge Hub project ( This will integrate data and conversations from many thousands of sources (website feeds, blogs twitter); aggregating the content into common memes, and filtering according to personal profiles. In other words, you get to see more of what you WANT to see and less of the stuff that is irrelevant to you. Beta release this April.