Tagged: Twitter

Mini review: “Coders: Who They Are, What They Think and How They Are Changing Our World” by Clive Thompson (audiobook edition)

This book is a must read if you are considering becoming a coder – and also if you work with them. The first half or so of the book goes into detail about how most people get into writing software (formal education or being self taught), the nature of the job (what they do all day), possible career paths and the personality characteristics found in many coders – both good and bad. It looks at the different types of people coming into the industry, the misleading myths that have built up, the particular challenges for women and the realistic outlook if you are looking for a mid-career job change – coming in from a different industry. Very interesting, and not something that I recall seeing dealt with in such detail elsewhere.

The remainder of the book examines the tech scene in more general terms – a look at the early days of computing and how people got into computers in previous decades, the decline in the proportion of women in the profession over time, the rise of AI and machine learning, the social problems (little predicted at the beginning but now very much in evidence) that arise with becoming a massive scale platform and how the venture capital industry determines how companies have to behave.

There is a bit of repetition as things that are mentioned briefly in the first part are dealt with in more depth in the second, but the author does a good-enough job at bringing things back to how these things are relevant to coders. The final chapter on “blue collar” coders is particularly good, so the book finishes on a high. It should give people thinking about going into this field some things to consider, which can only be a good thing.

The narration of the audiobook is interesting – often the soul of these technology / business books is sucked out of them by a narrator who talks in some “default-American” tone, unremarkable and uninspiring. At first I thought that this was going to be yet another example, but the performance is more nuanced – it feels like it is the author reading their own text but it is more professional. He gets the tone just right.

Smarter Planet, smarter cities


A couple of months ago IBM started running an ad campaign under the banner of Smarter Planet.   When people asked me why I was getting into the areas of data and analysis, I showed them the ads.  Something really just clicked with me.

Smarter Planet is about looking at issues and problems more intelligently and using technology (especially data analysis) to make improvements.  It’s a really broad campaign, covering a wide range of areas.  There’s also a lot of web resources – a blog, twitter feeds, videos, podcasts.  Big Blue are betting big on this and they want people to know it.  Check out this interview with IBM’s CEO.

And it’s not just IBM – Wired UK are unlocking the Digital City this month too…

Smarter resources:

Introduction website for Smarter Planet

Building a Smarter Planet – the blog

Smarter Planet on Tumblr

Smarter Cities on Tumblr

Follow on Twitter:  @ibmbizanalytics, @smarterplanet

My Smarter Planet links – the Spare Cycles Delicious page for Smarter Planet / Smarter Cities links.

IBMAdvertising’s Channel on YouTube – get the message direct from the source

Pushbutton: realtime for everyone


Just as Twitter starts to pitch itself to businesses (or, at least, explain what it is) as a pre-cursor to start making some money, things are starting to come together that will let everybody send messages in realtime without relying on specific companies like Twitter and Facebook.

The Pushbutton web is the name being given to a number of technologies that will be used together to allow you to send realtime messages to anyone who wants to listen.  Most importantly, from a software point of view, these are free and open.

Anil Dash puts the idea forward in a clear and concise way, with the aim of popularising the idea:

I think the Pushbutton web has the opportunity to give individuals and organizations with distinct and passionate voices the ability to be even more immediate and expressive on the web

He also shows an old Wired magazine cover, not actually linking to a particular article.  However, a quick search finds Push! – a 12 year old article which simultaneously manages to really show its age and prove ahead of its time:

…a new medium is arising, surging across the Web in the preferred, many-to-many way: anything flows from anyone to anyone – from anywhere to anywhere – anytime… It means information that cascades, not just through a PC, but across all forms of communication devices.  And it means content that will not hesitate to find you – whether you’ve clicked on something recently or not.

The buzz phrase for this convergence is “push media.” Content is pushed to you, in contrast to the invitational pull you make when you click on the Web. The push can be gentle, in-your-face, intermittent, in the background, or always on.

At the same time, networked push media can – and will – bombard you with an intensity that invitational media never muster.

The promise of push-pull media is to marry the programmed experience of television with two key yearnings: navigating information and experience, and connecting to other people.

You also get the ability to address small self-organizing audiences that broadcast could never afford to find…

You are participating in a ritual that links you to thousands of other citizens

There is value in common and simultaneous knowledge.

There are likely to be giants involved in the new push media, but they won’t have control.

But push media’s most revolutionary advance may be the creation of a whole universe of small-scale (and not-so-small-scale) broadcast networks.

The Future of Newspapers (part one…)



This article in Vanity Fair (from May 09) was the first to really make me think about the future of newspapers.  Up until then it was part and parcel of working at a newspaper that you would hear that “newspapers are doomed”  – something being said way before I was even born.  Back then it was the unions, now it’s the internet.  

Since this article I’ve found Twitter to be a great source of debate and good links.  I’ve discovered a whole internet meme dedicated to looking at the future of newspapers  – who knew?!

The article, written by Mark Bowen (author of the staggering Killing Pablo),  examines the effectiveness of Arthur Sulzberger, the latest in the family line of  publishers of the New York Times.   What is largely an exercise in character assassination and feint praise actually brings up some interesting points towards the end – looking at the impact of the internet on the industry and how the NYT has approached it.

What follows is a series of excerpts that cover a few important points – ones that will be need to be discussed further in future posts. 


The impact of the internet on the newspaper industry

American journalism is in a period of terror. The invention of the Internet has caused a fundamental shift not just in the platform for information—screen as opposed to paper—but in the way people seek information. In evolutionary terms, it’s a sudden drastic change of climate. One age passes and a new one begins. Species that survive the transition are generally not the kings of the old era. The world they fit so perfectly is no more. They are big and slow, wedded to the old ways, ripe for extinction.

…in practice, there is no such thing as being platform agnostic.  [It is not enough to say] Everything we put in the newspaper, we’ll put online.  You actually have to choose which platform you work on first, which one comes first…  If you really want to move to the Internet in a serious way, you need to change the culture of a news organization and decide that the Internet is the primary new thing. Platform agnostic means that all the online companies are going to zoom past you

Arthur’s idea is to continue producing The New York Times the way it has always been produced, and then to offer a digital edition of the product, with video, images, interactive graphics, blogs, and so on. That’s what nytimes.com does superbly. According to Nielsen, it attracts more than 20 million unique visitors a month. Imagine a newspaper that was picked up by 20 million readers every month! If only a tiny fraction of that number came back and became subscribers, circulation would explode. But those users are not “picking up” the newspaper; many of them are just picking up individual stories. Nearly half of those who access nytimes.com to read a story come in, as it were, through a side door… And in any case, they’re not spending a lot of time with the newspaper: the average amount, says Nielsen, is 35 minutes per month.

The Internet has disaggregated the news. It eliminates the middleman—that is, it eliminates editors…. [it] replaces editors with an algorithm

Much more is at work here than a change of platform. 

The need for information would survive the advent of the digital era, but the package offered by The New York Times might not. So how do you protect the package? What was so great about The New York Times was not that we offered the best coverage in any particular field but that we were very good in so many. It was the totality of the newspaper that was a marvel, not any of its particulars. The Web threatened to break that up.

The belief that if the editorial content of the newspaper is good enough, then the people will buy it

Arthur’s argument, or his hope, is that the quality of the Times’s brand will prevail, that quality independent journalism is so obviously valuable that serious readers will continue to seek it out.

“This is ridiculous,” says a former business-side executive at the Times. “It flies in the face of logic and reason, this belief that if your news product is so good and so comprehensive the normal rules of business are suspended. Think about it. Think about the inanity of saying that you survived by putting in more news and cutting ads.”

Arthur’s grandfather did make one important change during [World War 2], but it was more of a shrewd business move than a principled stand for journalism. While the rival Herald Tribune sat on its swollen profits during the war, Sulzberger used his profits to print not more news but more newspapers, greatly expanding the Times’s reach. That strategy left the Times with a larger circulation than the Herald Tribune after the war. The Times was better positioned to survive. The lesson of the story is not that investing in news pays but that a clever business strategy adapts to a changing market.

It is a company run by journalists. The Sulzbergers are journalists at their core, not businessmen


Producing a newspaper is expensive

His brand remains the best in the business, but that hasn’t solved his revenue problems. Journalism costs. The revenue from Internet advertising is still only about a tenth of total revenue. Even if those millions of brief hits on nytimes.com continue to swell, the Times itself may be in bankruptcy court long before the Web site generates enough revenue to replace what Arthur has lost.

This is just the beginning – there is much more to come on this subject…

Interesting debate about Twitter’s value on Iran story

A interesting debate is going on in real time at the moment on Twitter involving Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen about Twitter’s role (and that of others such as Facebook and YouTube) in covering the news of demonstrations in Iran over the disputed election results.  How valid can the Twitter reports be?  How do we know they are true?  What are the sources?  Are they “better” than the “conventional” media?

Good questions to ask… and some valuable links coming up, especially Iran, citizen media and media attention.







The Economist gives its opinion too:

…the much-ballyhooed Twitter swiftly degraded into pointlessness. By deluging threads like Iranelection with cries of support for the protesters, Americans and Britons rendered the site almost useless as a source of information—something that Iran’s government had tried and failed to do. Even at its best the site gave a partial, one-sided view of events. Both Twitter and YouTube are hobbled as sources of news by their clumsy search engines.

The winner of the Iranian protests was neither old media nor new media, but a hybrid of the two.

• Mashable:  HOW TO: Track Iran Election with Twitter and Social Media

• BBC World Service: Who do you trust to tell you what’s happening in Iran?

Clay Shirky on Twitter and the media

clayshirky by joi on flicker

clayshirky by joi on flickr

Strange how some things really make ideas click in your head.  This is one of the “!” moments, but I’m not sure why, considering that I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently on the subject of the future of newspapers.  This talk by Clay Shirky really stands out for its simplicity.  The first half is about Twitter but the most interesting part is when he talks about media.  Here’s some of it:

We are increasingly in a landscape where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap.

… the audience can talk back… [and] the audience can talk directly to one another; because there are a lot more amateurs than professionals

As recently as last decade, most of the media that was available for public consumption was produced by professionals.  Those days are over, never to return.

The media landscape that we knew… [where] professionals broadcast messages to amateurs … is increasingly slipping away.

In a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap…. where the “former audience” are now full participants.  In that world, media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is more and more often a way of creating an environment for  convening and supporting groups.

Whether or not that is the media environment that we want to work in, that is the media environment we’ve got… [the issue is] how can we best make use of this medium, even if it means changing the way we’ve always done it.

The bottom line is that the printed newspaper cannot meet the requirements of the way that people are increasingly engaging in news stories.  Its form factor and delivery method cannot be adapted to meet these requirements.

The Guardian on swine flu – more accurate than crowdsourcing alone?

The Guardian is using Twitter as a way of publicising its efforts to bring an up to date viewpoint on swine flu.  It is taking information from a number of sources:

We’re listing every case, as it’s reported, either by the World Health Organisation, the US Centers for Disease Control or the mainstream press wires and reports. There are some caveats: not all of these cases have been confirmed as swine flu in the lab; the dates in the spread sheet are mostly the dates they have been reported in the media, not the dates reported to the medical authorities. But as this progresses, we will try to do more with this and get more info – and any ideas, let us know.

This also forms part of their new work – Open Platform and Data Store – to share their figures with the public to mash up as they please.

This moderated but open form of journalism is how things are progressing at the Guardian…

We’ve cross-referenced these figures repeatedly – let us know if you would like to see anything else

…and seems to be more accurate than the pure crowdsourced material alone.  For example, returning to my first Google Map source of information , it is not currently showing any cases in New Zealand:

The Guardian’s figures show New Zealand as having 44 suspected cases, 16 lab confirmed cases, with 1 case withdrawn.  On their visualisation shows it as:

… although updating the graphic is a manual process rather than automatic…

The data here is being updated at a faster rate than the interactive graphic – so keep refreshing the page for latest figures.

… so for the most up to date view you have to do the most journalistic of practices and look at the source material.

Twitter as a news source on swine flu

Everyone (apparently) is now on Twitter, so I’ve been signed up and using it for a couple of weeks.  A lot of it can be inane crap, but I wanted to follow a few people to see what the fuss was about.  I normally use it to get links to interesting stories.  The swine flu that is breaking out in Mexico and spreading around the world is the first news item I’ve been following:


It is pretty good at getting things in real time, as long as you can judge for yourself what you think may be realible:


The links can be very interesting, such as this interactive Google Map to track the cases of swine flu:


Also, this is the article recommended by Tim O’Reilly in the image above:  A few comments on pandemic influenza

Looks like Twitter can be good for getting a feel of how things are progressing as they are happening.  The Guardian used this as a way of covering the G20 summit demonstrations in London – maybe it is another possible tool available to journalists, adding depth to a properly written finished, considered article.  Maybe the world-at-large using Twitter collectively can do just as good a job as journalists (check out Jay Rosen’s views here.)