What can you do with Quora

Many were launched, but in 2010 there were only a few new tools that really mattered. Kickstarter was one. Quora is another. Here we explain what it has done for us and how you can use it.
 

Facebook Ads are becoming more Social

You may remember we talked about a Nielsen report saying that Facebook ads that showed friends' interactions were up to 4 times more effective. Either Facebook reads the RAAKonteur or they may know someone at Nielsen, but they're now looking to enhance the Social element of their display ads.

They're calling it 'Sponsored Stories'. According to AdWeek, it's basically the same brand interactions that appear in your News Feed. This will allow brands to display that activity on the right side of the page.
 

Put an RFID tag in your shoe…

Here's a nice project that links digital to real life, created by Swedish interaction design student Hampus Lemhag. He developed a system for shoe brand WeSC where you put RFID tags into shoes. The user then connects that tag (i.e. the shoe) to some of their social networks and you can start programming all kinds of crazy stuff.

Example: you walk onto a reader-enabled surface, it triggers a camera that takes your picture, which gets posted straight to your Flickr account. More madness in Hampus' demo video.


 

…and an NFC chip in your phone

According to Business Insider, Apple is planning to integrate NFC chips in the next generation of iPhones and iPads. Which means that it may become possible to start making payments with your iPhone by simply touching the device onto a reader.
 

Collective action is easier

Whether it's reacting to rude Tube workers or getting rid of despots, social media has made collective action ever easier. In a very good article by Alex Howard an interesting bit of research is mentioned:

A survey released this week by the Pew Research Center's Internet and Life Project shed light on the social side of the Internet. The results offered insight into the differences between the connected and the disconnected, revealing that Internet users are more likely to be active participants, with some 80 percent of Internet users participating in groups, compared with 56 percent of non-Internet users.
 

The future of DIY digital publishing

Jeff Jarvis tweeted this week that Paulo Coelho didn't do any interviews to promote his new book, but instead only used Facebook and Twitter. With great success.

Going one step further is journalist and sci-fi author Cory Doctorow. In this talk at the Picnic conference in Amsterdam, he explains how he's published his new collection of short stories independently.

A nice teaser quote: As hard as it is to monetize fame, it's harder to monetize obscurity. 


 

Kinect – virtual identity not as a login

Our favourite games guy, Tom Chatfield, has unwrapped a Kinect. What struck him is the impact on digital identity and how the Kinect gives us a glimpse of our virtual selfs in quite a new sense.

It’s impossible not to experience an intense and rapid identification with that outline of your own body moving in synch on screen. And you can add to this the minor miracle of facial and bodily recognition. You step in front of the camera and wave, and a machine is no longer simply being controlled by “a user”; it’s being controlled by you, and specifically by you as defined by the same things that make you “you” in other most people’s eyes: your body and face and movements.
 

Creative of the week – The glitch-art of stAllio!

Forget Photoshop. Be creative with technology. stAllio! creates art by manipulating the data structure of photos to create some intriguing imagery. Read More >>


 

And not to be ignored

  • If you can't beat them, buy them – Google launches a competitor to Groupon.
  • An article in the NYT about how sending texts actually improves kids' spelling skills.
  • Facebook is concentrating on mobile in 2011 and specifically HTML 5.
  • quora

    If you have not tried Quora, you should. While literally hundreds of social services launched in 2010, and we try most, there are only a handful that are real game changers. Quora is one of those.

    The use case – Questions & Answers – has been tried before (I was a product manager of LycosIQ, and there’s been Yahoo! Answers), but they failed because people were not incentivized in the right way to create quality content. But Quora is on the right track.

    We find Quora interesting in part because of the innovative way it has re-imagined interface design to nudge, prompt and help usability and the quality of the service.

    Quora aims to crowdsource the best information around a question.  To this end it includes the ability to edit your answers or to suggest edits. The best answers can be voted up to more prominence. And they have moderators to monitor the quality. Pretty nifty.

    But that is not what this post is about. It is what we think you can use it for and what we have discovered so far is the best way on how to use it.

    Since it launched:

    Quora has sent us one business inquiry (a hot lead);
    It’s great for showing you know your stuff. Thought leadership. So myself, Gerrie and Adriaan are all active answering and asking questions. Notice the URL of the profile pages – this is designed with SEO in mind. Soon, when people Google your name, your Quora page will be one of the top links.

    Quora has helped us build an interesting tool;
    We wanted to build a mash-up between FourSquare and PeerIndex, but we could not find out how FS checks you out of a venue. So we asked a Question. And an FourSquare engineer answered.
    We speculated the other day why somebody like a FourSquare engineer would rather answer a Question on Quora than on Twitter. It’s because you don’t have to keep on answering the question. On Twitter, the communication disappears into the ether rather quickly. On Quora it sticks. It becomes a resource. This allows people to show how clever they are over and over gain with the least amount of effort.

    Quora helped us research a blog post;
    I violently disagree with Malcom Gladwell’s assertion that social networks can not be used to make risky political change happen. To prove this point I searched for and followed some Questions about the unrest in Tunisia. And once I knew more I asked a few, at times directing the question to specific users. I got information from people that were involved. The result is arguably two of the most detailed blog posts on Tunisia and Facebook in the west.

    As is the nature of Quora, there are answers to even more specific uses of it on Quora itself:

    RAAK’s Tips for using Quora

    • Above we mentioned specific questions. Being specific, being niche is key. When you log into Quora you get to see Questions based on topics you have selected. The more specific the topics, the more likely you are to see interesting questions. So instead of following the Facebook topic, Follow what’s being said about the Facebook API .
    • Otherwise follow people you know that are likely to to ask or interact with questions you might find interesting.
    • When answering a question, make sure you have a genuinely interesting or insightful answer. If your answer is not one of the top 3 answers, not many people are likely to see it. Try to be the best or else you’re wasting your time.
    • Don’t forget to add topics to your questions. That way the right people can see them.
    • Often some of the best bits of information and good insight is in the comments below questions. That’s where debate happens. It’s in the comments on an answer on this question on Tunisia where the gold dust about Facebook and Google’s actions re Tunisia came to light.
    • Direct specific people to answer a question. The founder of RWW France, Fabrice Epelboin, was very involved in the Tunisian affair from early on. I directed him to a few Questions. Some argue that this is Quora’s greatest strength: It gives you first-hand accounts from verifiable personalities. See for example Ashton Kutcher’s answer to What determines whether an actor is cast in a part in Hollywood
    • If you have a question about using Quora, search for an answer (the search and Question writing boxes are done in the same place). Invariably the Answer to your Question is already there. It helped me find out how to link to specific Answers, and not just Questions for example. If you can’t find it, then you’ll have an excellent Question.
    • It helps if you have an active dedicated following on social networks like Twitter. People that have spent time on social media will reap the rewards on Quora, which is tightly integrated with Facebook and Twitter.

    Which brings us to one of the points of criticism against Quora, i.e. that the answers of popular users with a large Twitter following – like Robert Scoble – get voted up, simply because of who they are and not because of what they say.

    This week we’ve been intrigued by the wonderful world of glitch-art. I’m sure we’re stepping on some purist toes when we describe glitch-art as ‘creating beauty with bugs and errors in all kinds of digital media’. You know, the blocky stuff that pops up on your tv screen when you’re playing a scratched DVD.

    Those glitches can happen with anything, but the interesting artists have been manipulating and triggering these irregularities, something that’s called databending.

    One of these databenders is stAllio!, who manipulates the data-structure of an image to effectively plan such a glitch that creates a beautiful image. He does this by opening image-files into text-editors and audio-editing software and finding the right bits and bytes to influence and knead only a certain area or aspect of the image.

    It’s all very nerdy and technical and you can find out more about his techniques in these lengthy tutorials.

    Or just have a browse round stAllio’s Flickr page. Not quite your standard Photoshop plug-in.



    Zuckerberg Tunisia
    As has become habitual after social upheaval, the digerati again engaged in some serious navelgazing after the Tunisian uprising. To what extent was it a Twitter, or even a Wikileaks revolution, we asked?

    It turns out it was a Facebook revolution. More than any other platform, Facebook was used and used widely by ordinary Tunisians (detailed info on my other blog).

    Good on you, Mr. Zuckerburg! says Roger Cohen in the New York Times.

    When Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the now ousted dictator, addressed the nation, as he would three times, Facebook-ferried fury was the response. Ben Ali might have 1.5 million members in his puppet party; he soon faced two million Facebook users.

    And so on chimes the Atlantic enthusing:

    It was on Christmas Day that Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan first noticed strange things going on in Tunisia. Reports started to trickle in that political protest pages were being hacked. “We were getting anecdotal reports saying: ‘It looks like someone logged into my account and deleted it’ “, Sullivan said.

    Sullivan’s team rapidly coded a two-step response to the problem. First, all Tunisian requests for Facebook were routed to an https server. The Https protocol encrypts the information you send across it, so it’s not susceptible to the keylogging strategy employed by the Tunisian ISPs.

    The second technical solution they implemented was a “roadblock” for anyone who had logged out and then back in during the time when the malicious code was running…

    They rolled out the new solutions to 100% of Tunisia by Monday morning, five days after they’d realized what was happening.

    So Facebook reacted in no time by introducing HTTPS and helped save the day. Hoorah!

    Not so fast.

    In truth it would seem that Facebook did not care for months that part of its sprawling empire was catching fire, and a country with it.

    Facebook disable Tunisia

    Fabrice's disabled account

    Fabrice Epelboin, a hactivist, entrepeneur and founder of Read Write Web France (RWW) has called the Facebook reaction autistic and recent reports of Facebook’s caring PR bullshit.

    Let’s backtrack to 2008 …

    The atmosphere in Tunisia was tense before the upcoming elections. YouTube and many other websites and blogs were already blocked. Then, on the morning of 18 August 2008, people logged in to Facebook just to find their access denied. There was insurrectionary talk in the air:

    that’s one more step of killing internet freedom as same as many other freedoms and this will contiue if no reacts against this tirany. All computer geeks should cooperate to put and end to this opression. If no one reacts it won’t stop and internet will be useless in tunisia.

    A few weeks later, after a massive public outcry and personal intervention of the president, the ban on Facebook was lifted.

    The Tunisian authorities wanted to get at Facebook by other means. The next phase in the communications war had started. The attempt to inject code into Facebook pages to capture the login details of Facebook users is well known by now. See a technical discussion here.

    But that started long before this festive season. Fabrice Epelboin again:

    Fabrice's hacked profile

    Fabrice's hacked profile - made to look like an attack by Islamists

    Well… When we first encountered aggressive ‘islamic e-terrorist’ on Facebook, in may 2010, I had an ‘eFatwa’ on my head/profile (see story here). I immediately alerted Facebook, they didn’t respond, dispute[sic] me having a good working relationship with their Paris PR agency. Then we published the story on RWW US, and they asked to have their take published, saying profile deactivation was made by humans, not automatically, and therefore couldn’t be tricked.

    The next day, my profile got deactivated, I made a huge post on the french edition exposing everything we had discovered.

    During this episode, Marshall, the editor of RWW in the US and me where in heavy talks with Facebook VP for privacy, as this could become a major PR storm (unfortunately, it did not, but this is certainly not RWW’s fault).

    At the time RWW made the explicit point that ordinary Tunisians’ accounts were being disabled. Lists of artists and activists accounts were sent to Facebook. Unlike RWW editors their accounts were not switched back on.

    It would seem that the Tunisian cyber police used a technique where they deliberately triggered warning flags on user profiles. Possibly after hacking them. After a couple of times an automatic Facebook script deleted these accounts.

    But even after the RWW articles, Facebook claimed this was not the case, that it was simply a Facebook employee error.

    Alerté depuis maintenant près d’un mois, Facebook a continuellement eu le même discours : les désactivations de comptes seraient systématiquement réalisés après une enquête faite par un employé de Facebook.

    Alerted for almost a month, Facebook has continually had the same speech: the deactivation of accounts would be systematically carried out after an investigation by an employee of Facebook. Not very credible, but difficult to argue otherwise … until my account referenced in several of these lists has been disabled in turn. (Google Translate)

    Netocratie oblige, et contrairement à des centaines de Tunisiens qui n’ont jamais pu récupérer leurs comptes, le mien a été réactivé en cinq minutes, suivi des excuses du directeur de la vie privée de Facebook, accompagnées de la même justification et invoquant l’erreur d’un employé. (Google Translate)

    …mine was reactivated in five minutes, followed by an apology from the director of the privacy of Facebook, along with the same justification and invoking the an employee error.

    That was 9 months ago. And in June 2010 Slim Amanou (now the youth minister in Tunis) published an article showing the sophisticated hacking techniques used on Facebook by the Tunisian authorities.

    Fabrice again:

    …we undercovered publicly the massive terrorist scheme operated by the Ben Ali regime (article here)…

    During all this time Fabrice claims Facebook was not helpful at all -

    During all 2010, we’ve been regularly updating Facebook about every detail, and we’ve been providing them with list of deactivated accounts who where hold by Tunisians we where in contact with. They never ever provided any feedback, but it looks like they did something because, on the field, profile deactivation appeared to be less frequent.

    The only time when they gave me a feedback was during the last week of the revolution, when ByLasko, one of RWW authors in Tunisia, had his FB account hacked and couldn’t access it. I send an emergy signal to Facebook PR in France and got a simple quote back : “we are aware of the situation and are investigating”.

    Now compare this with Google. Fabrice is our man again:

    When Kasserine killings occurred, we made a big PR buzz about Tunisia by uploading a very graphic scene on YouTube and having it expectedly censored, and reporting about it. French and specialised press wasn’t very eager to talk about Tunisia, but they all were willing to trash Google, so it worked pretty well. The video was simply violating Google terms on graphic content. It took Google 12 hours to change its moderation rules to accept everything coming from Tunisia. They even gave us instruction for better cooperation with their moderation services and tips for better SEO.

    Tunisia was a revolution in which Facebook played a huge role. The Atlantic again:

    Back in July, bloggers Photoshopped a picture of Mark Zuckerberg to show him holding up a sign that read, “Sayeb Sala7, ya 3ammar,” the slogan for a freedom of expression campaign late in 2010. Later, Zuckerberg popped up on a sign outside the Saudi Arabian embassy carried by Tunisian protesters demanding the arrest of Ben Ali.

    But this loftly role was because Tunisians were using Facebook even in the face of grave risks. Mark himself wasn’t really paying attention.

    Google's got a new CEO

    We like Google and the news fresh in is that Larry Page, one of the original founders, will replace Eric Schmidt as CEO. Let's hope he invigorates the company like Steve Jobs did at Apple. Brin, the other founder, has already indicated that a key target for Google is social search.
     

    iPads are not a fad

    Apple has just announced stunning sales results. They have so much cash in the bank to could buy Facebook outright.

    What's particularly interesting is the sales of its products on aggregate so far. Total iPods sold ever: 297m. Total iPhones: 89.2m. iPads: 14.8m so far. Macs: Around 60-70m. Notice how well iPads and mobiles are doing compared to Macs. The future is indeed mobile.

    But why then are magazines on iPads not doing so well? If you remember correctly, in a previous RAAKonteur we expressed our doubts on whether magazine apps could compete with social apps to deliver good content. And now there's a sterling set of answers on Quora on exactly that question.
     

    Social Commerce as done by ASOS

    While everyone is talking about Social Commerce apps and services, (there's a good overview on the Social Commerce website), online fashion retailer ASOS are making a bold move. At the end of the month they will be launching a fully-functional online shop on Facebook.

    Which is very interesting, we think. One, while there's a tendency to integrate social networks into your own website, ASOS has decided to fully integrate their service into the Facebook-Wide Web. And two, because it'll be curious to see how they deal with the usability challenges that Facebook-development throws up.


     

    The value of a Facebook fan

    Bringing those kind of businesses onto Facebook will help defining the 'value of a Facebook fan', which marketeers are so keen to put a number on.

    But until then they'll have to do with ad hoc studies like this one from Syncapse. They surveyed 4,000 people and managed to extract the following stats:

  • The average fan spends $71.84 on products they Like.
  • On average, fans are 28% more likely to continue being a loyal user.
  • The average fan is 41% more likely to recommend the product/service to their friends.
  • 81% of fans reported some affinity with a brand they Like.
  • The average value of a fan is $136.38.
  • Great fodder to put in presentations, but as the study also points out: no two fans are alike and the numbers vary greatly depending on how active a given fan is.
     

    Was Tunisia a Twitter revolution?

    Barely was the dictator Ben Ali forced to flee Tunisia and the debate raged: to what extent was social media, and especially the social media darling Twitter, responsible? RAAKonteur Wessel went digging and came back with an answer. It wasn't a Twitter revolution really. It was a Facebook revolution. But while social media can undoubtedly help an uprising, what's not sure is that social media is conducive to governance.

    Hactivist Fabrice Epelboin writes an interesting anecdote on Quora.

    When Kasserine killings occurred, we made a big PR buzz about tunisia by uploading a very graphic scene on Youtube and having it censored (and writing about it).

    French press wasn't very eager to talk about tunisia, but they all were willing to trash Google, so it worked pretty well, although basicaly, the video was simply violating Google terms. It took Google 12 hours to change its moderation rules to accept everything coming from Tunisia. They even gave us instruction for better cooperation with their moderation services and tips for better SEO.
     

    Facebook growing at pace in developing world

    Facebook is big in Tunisia, and booming all over the globe. Its growth in the developing world is far outstripping that of the US and UK where it seems to have reached a plateau. Indonesia is now the second biggest single country. With the UK third and Turkey fourth.
     

    The battle for Influence goes on

    We like a nice bit of competition. This week the two main Influence Measurement tools (Klout & Peerindex) both released some charts showing off the power of their services.

    Klout compiled a list of the most influential American colleges on Twitter. While Peerindex did the British thing and put together a list of the most influential British comedians. Which shows that Graham Lineham is as influential on Twitter as Alan Carr (who has 10 times more followers).


     

    Agency hires with Twitter

    In the category 'Agencies that practice what they preach' comes Minneapolis agency Campbell Mithun. For their summer intern plan, they're asking interested candidates not to send a CV, but to send them 13 "Career-Launching Tweets". We like.
     

    The good guys are winning

    Clay Shirky wrote a brilliant piece on the 10th anniversary of Wikipedia in the Guardian:

    That shift, from product to activity, has involved the most amazing expansion of peer review ever: Wikipedia's editor-in-chief is a rotating quorum of whoever is paying attention. Many of Wikipedia's critics have focused on the fact that the software lets anyone edit anything; what they miss is that the social constraints of the committed editors keep that capability in check. As easy as the software makes it to do damage, it makes it even easier to undo damage.

    Imagine a wall where it was easier to remove graffiti than add it: the amount of graffiti on such a wall would depend on the commitment of its defenders. So with Wikipedia; if all its passionate participants were to stop caring, the whole thing would be gone by next Thursday, overrun by vandals and spammers. If you can see Wikipedia right now, it means that again, today, the good guys won.
     

    Creative of the week – Alex Valli – a Life in Snapshots

    You must know a few. People that are always snapping pictures, trying to document almost everything they're coming across. It's not really Photography with a capital P, but it can be interesting. Now Alex Valli has turned that kind of compulsive snapshot behaviour into an art form of life-logging. Read More >>


     

    Tech insight of the week – Pimp your iPad

    Release an awesome device and it will get hacked. To bits. Let's call it the law of hackability of awesomeness. A couple of weeks ago we wrote about all the weird and wonderful hacks out there for Microsoft's Kinect. Today I'm having a stab at the iPad. Read More >>

    You must know a few. People that are always snapping pictures, trying to document almost everything they’re coming across. It’s not really Photography with a capital P, but it can be interesting.

    Now Alex Valli has turned that kind of compulsive snapshot behaviour into an art form of life-logging.

    Valli is an interaction designer with a passion for photography. In a recent Wired article he says that he has a Flickr page, but that he uses it to “tell stories, not show single images”.

    And he’s using his technical abilities to take the act of telling visual stories to the extreme.

    Because he was spending so much time on annotating and selecting his photos, he wanted to automate the process. So for a recent trip to Lanzarote, Valli created a smartphone app that auto-snapped a million images, hanging from his neck. He then created an algorithm that analyses photo features, ignores the crap shots and incorporates location data.

    He’s since further developed the app, called it DeepVue, which is now available from the iTunes Store. And you can see some of his ‘My Life in Pictures’ experiments on the DeepVue site.

    Release an awesome device, and it will get hacked. To bits. Let’s call it the law of hackability of awesomeness. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about all the weird and wonderful hacks out there for microsoft’s Kinect.

    Today I’m having a stab at the iPad.

    iPad hacking

    Adding a Camera

    The iPad launched without a camera. Nobody’s sure why, but it did.

    Most speculators agree that this is the first thing that will be added in the much anticipated iPad 2. So, it makes sense that this would be the first thing that tinkerers would like to add to their iPads, especially since Skype already supports video on all iDevices.

    The most common camera hacks use an iPhone or iPod touch 4G as a wireless camera:

    (Some 3rd party products are also aiming at this market).

    Taking this paradigm one step further, iPhone photographer Lee Morris uses a wifi enabled media card on his stills camera to send pictures to his iPad on the fly, as he takes them.

    Application? Clients can monitor a professional photo shoot while it’s happening without interrupting the shoot or peeking over the photographer’s shoulders like monkeys.

    Adding 3G Access

    iPhones and iPads are not only combined to add a camera to an iPad.

    Often the iPhone is hacked to provide tethered 3G access (that is, allowing other devices to use the iPhone’s 3G by turning the iPhone into a wireless access point), thus giving an iPad without 3G internet access on the go:

    This is mostly done via a piece of software for jailbroken iPhones called MyWi. MyWi is not free, but of course (given the community we’re dealing with), there’s an easily accessible cracked version too.

    Adding Multitasking

    Taking the iPhone + iPad idea a few steps to the left, these guys DIY’d a clip that let you attach your iPhone to the side of your iPad, arguing that this provides a practical solution to the iPad’s lack of multitasking!

    A bit less tongue-in-the-cheek, and more of an actual hack, the following procedure adds real multitasking to the iPad:

    Then, of course, some people feel the need to hack the already jailbroken iPad to disable multitasking.

    There’s just no pleasing everybody, is there?

    Adding USB devices

    Most USB hacks exploit the fact that the iPad camera connection kit seems to add a fully functional USB port to your iPad. This can be used to, for instance, extend storage:

    The problem comes in when using USB devices that demand higher power delivery than the iPad dock can provide. This ingenious hack provides a very clever solution by using a USB splitter, and plugging the third port into a wall socket USB power adapter:

    Making Music

    A while ago, Robert Scoble interviewed Rhana Sobhany, the world’s first iPad DJ:

    Synthesizer engineer Eric Persing, founder of Spectrasonics, built a weird and wonderful mashup of a Moog Little Phatty analogue synth, a Mac mini, two iPods and two iPads.

    The king of cool in this section though, has to be DJ Kid Chameleon, who built himself a groove helmet out of a Macintosh Plus casing and an iPad:

    Hardware Hacks

    When the iPad came out, many people commented on the hardware hackability of the iPad, and predicted that a whole range of hardware hacks will see the light of day before the press release papers have properly cooled down.

    It didn’t happen.

    Except for this hack, which, quite ambitiously, replace the AT&T 3G hardware with much faster hardware from Verizon.

    Oh yes, and finally there’s this iPad printing hack, which could maybe, by a long stretch of the imagination, be classified as a hardware hack:

    How to print from an iPad

    No?

    Mobile computing

    Just before the holidays we called out 2011 as the year when the importance of mobile technology will force many companies to reconsider their use of media. Well here is more evidence.

    The global mobile broadband count passed 500 million last year, and the forecast is that it will double this year and shoot past the 1 billion mark. And while last year’s CES was all about 3D TVs, this year saw a plethora of tablets (think iPad-me-too’s – but cheaper) running mostly on Android, Google’s new OS.

    Scan that code

    Talking about mobile. The ever-inspiring PSFK have just published a report on The Future of Mobile Tagging, the technology that includes the likes of QR codes and Microsoft Tags (who sponsored the document).

    It contains a number of creative case-studies that show how you can use the technology to raise awareness, provide customers with information and help make the sale. One to bookmark.

    We’re particularly intrigued by Likify, a Beta service by Belgian agency Boondoggle Lifelabs that links the QR code to a Facebook Like, enabling you to Like real-life objects, shops,…

    And do give the below code a scan to try it.

    It’s gotta be big – the Internet 2010 in numbers

    For every Tweet sent in the world in 2010 (there were 27 billion), there were over 4000 emails (there were 107 Trillion). Just proving that older forms of social media are not going away soon. For that and other incredible stats see this post.

    Does Reputation equal Influence?

    If you have been reading our newsletter you know that we have been putting influence systems like Klout and PeerIndex through their paces. But what about reputation? If you understand a person’s reputation, could that be a way to define influence?

    Before Quora, the current network du jour, came to dominate our inboxes, there was already a very similar service for tech people called Stack Overflow. So do Q&A services like Stack Overflow and Quora hold the key to getting to the bottom of influence – in a topic-specific way – in a way that Klout does not?

    Robert Scoble mused this week: “After all, you don’t get reputation on Stack Overflow unless you can actually answer technical questions and have other people verify you are right most of the time.” Stack Overflow has actually made a list of those with the highest rankings and Robert reckons this would be gold dust for recruiters. Interesting times.

    Is the Google algorithm becoming weak?

    SEO is an important part of any online communication. And we’ve written before about how creating good content is a powerful means to make your way up the Google search results.

    But this intriguing article talks about how ‘content farms’ are spamming the Google algorithm and effectively making search less likely to be relevant.

    Companies that use social media make more money

    So says the global management consulting firm McKinsey, who base this statement on a 4-year study on the impact of ‘collaborative Web 2.0 technologies’. Cue lively discussion about correlation and causality.

    Tech insight of the week – The Gospel according to Javascript

    In the beginning, when the web was created, Javascript was a language scoffed at by ‘real’ developers. It was the domain of pop-ups, banner ads and tacky cursor effects. This is not at all the case anymore. Read More >>

    Creative of the Week – Koos Kombuis

    There’s no doubting that the publishing world is currently in a flux. A great example of authors doing their own thing is Twitterdawn, a Twitter novel by renowned South African author and musician Koos Kombuis. Read More >>

    If you work in the publishing industry, these are exciting as well as scary times.

    Exciting because there are lots of opportunities to explore the role of new media in this oh-so-old-school industry and to redefine the nature of story-telling.

    Scary, because possibly the greatest threat is the fact that it is getting easier and easier for authors to cut-out the middle-man altogether and tell their stories all by themselves. Whenever and however they want to.

    A great example of that is Twitterdawn by renowned South African author and musician Koos Kombuis. Twitterdawn is effectively a Twitter novel. It is written in short updates of 140 characters each, published on Kombuis’ Twitter account. We’re not sure whether Kombuis writes it as he goes along or whether it’s pre-written and he publishes it over a certain period of time, but it feels like the former.

    It’s not the first time people experiment with the short format. Small Places was written on Twitter over the span of 2 years. And already back in 2007, five of the top ten bestselling novels in Japan were written as cell-phone novels.

    But the nice thing is that Kombuis’ ‘book’ (sounds strange, no?) is about Twitter and Social Media. As he calls it in Tweet 2, it’s “An urban fantasy about what may become of social media in the distant future”. A sort of meta-twovel. And Kombuis uses his own personal Twitter account, on which he’s very active, to publish his short bursts (with the hashtag #Twitterdawn). It may seem a small detail, but it makes the updates seem very personal and part of his life.

    The problem with that is that it’s not particularly easy to trawl through Kombuis’ feed and read the relevant parts. And you can’t just search for the Twitterdawn hashtag; Twitter doesn’t store Tweets very long for search purposes.

    So we decided to work our way through his personal timeline and use curated.by to curate the novel into the below feed.

    One day, when we find some time, we’ll try and automate it and even auto-publish it in a chronological way, but for now we’ll update it as and when Kombuis adds to the story.


    In the beginning, when the web was created, Javascript was a language scoffed at by ‘real’ developers. It was the domain of pop-ups, banner ads and tacky cursor effects.

    Many users, especially power users, would rather have been seen at work browsing weird furniture porn than with a royal flush of colourful flashing pop-ups all over their desktop. Thus, they preferred to disable javascript in their browsers.

    Well, no more, brother. Today is a new day.

    Javascript is right now poised to become the status quo programming language of the future.

    What!? How did this happen?

    Javascript's brilliant future

    Consider the following stats, plotting by date how many users had Javascript switched off in their browsers. This comes from W3schools, a web development howto and reference site boasting mostly web developers as users (ie power users):

    Date JavaScript On JavaScript Off
    January 2000 80% 20%
    January 2001 81% 19%
    January 2002 88% 12%
    January 2003 89% 11%
    January 2004 92% 8%
    January 2005 89% 11%
    January 2006 90% 10%
    January 2007 94% 6%
    January 2008 95% 5%

    Genesis

    Genesis

    And the web was created out of pure, static, marked up text, in the likeness of printed media. And it was called HTML.

    Way back when the web started, all web content was static. In other words:

    1. The browser asks the server for a page.
    2. The server generates the page.
    3. The server sends the page to the browser.
    4. The browser displays the page.

    This process is repeated every time the user clicks on a link or browses to a new page, even if some of the page content stays the same. The browser compensates for that by storing certain resources locally, like pictures, scripts and even pages.

    It was this scenario that gave Javascript its bad name. The only place for Javascript in this setup was to attempt to create eye candy, or to show the user stuff they did not want to see, like pop-up ads.

    Then, between 2002 and 2005, this scenario changed dramatically …

    Exodus

    Exodus

    And the web longed to be freed from the bounds of the browser. It longed to reach out to the Source, the Server. It was the dawn of the age of Ajax.

    By using Javascript as a network client running in the browser and using PHP as a network server, the web became dynamic. The typical browser/server interaction changed as follows:

    1. The browser asks the server for a page.
    2. The server generates the page, plus some Javascript client code.
    3. The server sends the page to the browser.
    4. The browser displays the page and runs the Javascript client code.
    5. The Javascript client code connects to PHP server code, on user interaction, or periodically, to fetch new bits of content from the server as it becomes available
    6. The new bits of content is inserted where appropriate, and the display is updated, without having to reload the parts of the page that didn’t change

    This move changed the web paradigm quite a bit. The web page became more of an application. Links became buttons, firing off locally stored pieces of Javascript instead of requests for entire pages to the server. The browser became a more of a platform, for applications to run on.

    This tendency is about to be taken to an entirely new level, though …

    Revelations

    Revelations

    And behold, the apocalypse of the web was upon us, and it was called HTML5. Content became function, reader became platform, and the New Web rose from the dark depths, driven by Javascript, with a crown on its head, called CSS3.

    In a previous post I explained how HTML5 is changing the browser into a fully capable application platform, replacing the Operating System, capable of running any application thinkable. This is a change that Google fully acknowledges by investing a huge amount of development and marketing effort in ChromeOS.

    So, if HTML5 turns the browser into the OS, what language does it speak?

    Javascript.

    Javascript is to the HTML5 capable browser what Machine Code is to computer hardware, with the added benefit that it is human readable. HTML5 provides the containers to do amazing stuff in, but Javascript will do that amazing stuff.

    All of a sudden, Javascript is becoming the language of the future. Any contenders?