Macworld != World

This is the dumbest, most myopic blog title I have seen in a long while: “Apple Stock Tanks During Stevenote.” I don’t mean to be snarky, but is it possible that someone could be so enthralled with the cult of Mac to completely miss the fact that Citigroup posted a $10B loss today? Of course Apple’s stock tanked. So did every other stock in the known universe. In the words of the Economist,

Citigroup Earnings

Flea Market Montgomery: a treatise on the comedic disposition of bloggers

A few weeks back, someone sent me a link to the Mini Mall Rap. I sat on it for a few days, and after I realized I couldn’t get it out of my head, and it was permeating even the most intimate moments of my life, I posted it to this here blog. Living rooms. Bedrooms. Dinettes. Oh yeah! The video reached a wide audience, and Sammy Stephens had his 10 seconds of internet fame. What a lovely story.

Or so I thought! A recent post on BoingBoing revitalizes Sammy, linking to a different version of the same video. Today’s widely-read b3ta newsletter, as well as numerous other sources reference the very same copy. This isn’t surprising, as many videos find multiple homes on the web, each attracting a different audience. What is surprising is the way that the video is being framed.

In my post, as well as the others around the same time, we referred to the video as “AWESOMEST COMMERCIAL EVER,” or “SAMMY STEPHENS RULES MY LIFE.” Mostly positive things because, well, the commercial made us happy, even though it was obviously horrible. The second time around the video has taken a surprisingly negative tone. The video itself is called “Worst commercial ever,” with Xeni describing it as “Supremely bad TV ad.” And in its first day of running, more people have identified with the negative version than the positive/neutral one. All things being equal1, Sammy haters have gotten more attention than Sammy lovers. Why? I think this question is based on the audience that has come to rule web attention (bloggers). Here are two hypotheses2:

  1. Bloggers are haters. They love to criticize, point fingers and look down their noses at real internet celebrities who work for a living. Any joke that does not reference the misfortune of another person is, well, not funny.
  2. Bloggers have no sense of irony. Their myopic attention span only allows for limited levels of sarcasm, irony, satire, hyperbole, parody, or otherwise sophisticated humor.

Of course it’s bad. Of course Sammy Stephens is ridiculous. Even Ellen understood that. So why all the hating? Can’t we love Sammy, laugh with irony about the “goodness” of his commercial? This way, we all get along, and no one’s feelings get hurt. And you look more sophisticated. QED.

But seriously folks, I find it fascinating that the same commercial has reached two entirely different audiences simply because of the way it was framed.

1.   There’s no way to know exactly how these two videos came to reach their audiences, etc., etc., but I have a blog and that gives me the right to speculate and make wildly unprovable claims that I will defend in the comments where few people will dare to go.
2.   I recognize the reflexive contradiction inherent in my being a blogger and also an ironic non-hater. This is just a case of mistaken identity; what you’re reading is actually a “personal journal.”

Zen and the diffusion of links

Yesterday I had a moment I can only classify as Zen. Amidst the flurry of hundreds of RSS chunks, emails and IMs spreading between thousands of people, some signal seemed to appear out of the noise. Unfortunately, I am not omnicient, and cannot put the puzzle together completely. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

1. Sometime in the AM, I follow a link from Nelson’s Linkblog to a story on a blog called Collision Detection about the limitations of multitasking. I find it interesting, so I post it to del.icio.us.

2. I follow a link from Jason to a nerd comic about sandwiches. I laugh, and this makes me a nerd. I do not want people to know this, so I refrain from posting to del.icio.us.

3. Kathryn sends me back to Collision Detection, this time for a story about Matmos sampling an Enigma machine for an upcoming song. This is too much of a coincidence, two links to Collision Detection in one day, so I do some research. Of course it turns out that this is the weblog of Clive Thompson, author for Wired, New York Times Magazine, et al. I add him to my RSS reader, of course.

4. Later in the evening, Clive posts about a funny t-shirt produced by Randall Monroe, the author of the aformentioned nerd comic. Ok, something is definitely amiss here.

Nelson → Clive, Kottke → Randall, Katheryn → Clive, Clive → Randall. This is too much for coincidence. Will someone please tell me what is going on?

Yahoo! Blogs/News mashup

The first few weeks I have spent at Yahoo! have been extremely exciting. In the course of a week Yahoo! has announced the Berkeley Research Lab (where I work), a new podcasting service, the acquisition of Upcoming and tonight Yahoo! Blog Search the integration of weblogs into Yahoo! News Search results. I am extremely happy to have had the chance to be part of what I think will be an important step in bringing blogs into a new context.

The decision to join news and weblogs instead of creating yet another vertical blog search is something that I’m sure will fuel a lot of blog posts, especially around the issue of whether or not the marriage is appropriate. Personally I see this not as a statement of some kind of equivalency, but rather as an acknowledgement of the goals that drive a person to go searching for news in the first place. But that’s just me.

And, as Jeremy has pointed out, a huge motivation comes from a desire to bring blogs to a wider audience, which in the case of Yahoo! News is umm… really wide. I’ve only been at Yahoo! for a few weeks (long enough to start! adding! extra! punctuation!), but I’m very lucky to have had the chance to work with this team during the final stages of development. This is, in fact, the only product I’ve ever had a hand in, and it has been facinating to see it take on it’s final form. It’s not something I have seen very often in the academic world, that is for sure.

comScore weblog report

I am obviously always on the lookout for weblog statistics, as it has become a core part of my thesis. Today a marketing company by the name of comScore has released a report detailing a number of different statements about the weblog community. I’d like to take a moment to remind people that this is a marketing survey, and as such should be carefully scrutinized before drawing any conclusions.

First, comScore’s methodology claims that they have 2 million active subjects, recruited through Random Digit Dial and an “online recruitment program,” for which they provide no details. They do however list the incentives that are provided to those individuals:

  • Server-based virus protection
  • Attractive sweepstakes prizes
  • Opportunity to impact and improve the Internet

Sans the third incentive which is the blanket “feel-good” incentive for all surveys, I challenge you to think of someone who is attracted to the first two. Let’s just say they’re not your average person or internet user. They also note:

All demographic segments of the online population are represented in the comScore Global Network, with large samples of participants in each segment. For example, our network includes hundreds of thousands of high-income Internet users – one of the most desirable and influential groups to measure, yet also one of the most difficult to recruit.

Without diving into what “high-income Internet users” are, having hundreds of thousands subjects from a assumedly small portion of the population leads me to believe that they’re not really interested in representivity, but rather, umm, marketing. Given that they do not justify their sample, nor provide margins of error, the initial sampling frame should be considered bunk.

Second, if their sampling of weblogs seems strange at first, it is. They were interested in how the aforementioned sample visited weblogs, so they decided to look at visits to 400 blog-related domains, which they culled from “top blog lists.” These domains include hosting services (e.g. “*.livejournal.com”) among the other top blogs. Keep in mind that this sample of 400 domains incorperates community sites (freerepublic.com, fark.com, slashdot.org, metafilter.com, etc.), professionally written sites (gawker.com, drudgereport.com, fleshbot.com, etc) and potentially spam (crazyass13.com throws my spam alarm).

I’m assuming, based on their distribution of unique visitors shown below, that all of these sites are included in one sample, with the top sites being blog hosts (although note the missing blogspot, which supposedly saw 19 million unique visitors), and the second group being community sites and professional blogs. As far as many people might be concerned, the “real blogs” start around #30, for which they provide no description. How this is a sample of weblogs at all, I can’t say. But building categories around this strange set of sites seems a little unsound.

comScore statistics

What this report, in sum, seems to say to me is that some large number of people have visited either a professional weblog or some weblog on any number of the hosted services in the past year. This should not be surprising. I get a blog site response from Google just about once every five queries. Without any description of how many of these blog visitors saw only one blog in the entire period, I’d say an overwhelming majority could be from search engines (which they admit).

Given their sampling frame and blog selection methodology, it seems hard to extrapolate any meaningful statistics about true blog readership. Until they release the data, I would quote these numbers with extreme caution.

Thesis: defended

IAMDEFENDERFor those wondering whether or not I’ve died in my apartment in a vat of sweet-smelling liquid that masked the smell of my rotting body, the answer is NO! I’m alive and well, just in the wake of one of the more excruciatingly painful periods of work-induced anti-social behavior. And as a consolation, I never have to defend my thesis again.

Unlike most Ph.D. defenses, the Media Lab counterpart is quite public, held in an auditorium-sized room, and can occur before the thesis document is finished. Last Thursday at 9am I went through this process presenting my thesis titled The structural determinants of media contagion, and I came through fairly unscathed. It was fairly well attended once people woke up (around 9:30 I guess), and my committee decided I was ready to enter the cloistered halls of academia… after I finish writing the document.

It’s unfortunate, but true. I can’t put Dr. on my credit card just yet, nor can I pretend like I have any plans after that. In the mean time I’ll be writing in limbo until my April 5th deadline. I’ll hold off on the results until then, lest I contradict myself in two weeks time. But I just wanted to thank everyone that helped me get here, and there are so many. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you know that I mean you, because just about everyone who possibly could have lended a hand did in some way (even if it was just by taking the survey).

So thanks. I’ll be filling in the details in a few weeks, but you can take solace in the mean time that I’m taking showers again and interacting with people other than the three friends I’ve developed in my brain over the past two months.

Help me graduate

mit logoAs many of you know, I’m in the process of finishing my Ph.D. which happens to be about (you guessed it), weblogs. A large part of the analysis is dependent on gathering information about how people use their weblogs and their general communication behavior. For the next two weeks I’ll be gathering this data in the form of a survey:

http://blogsurvey.media.mit.edu

If you are a weblog author and have 15 minutes to spare, I can’t say how much it will help me if you fill out the survey. The larger my sample is, the bigger the impact, and the easier it will be for me to railroad my committee into signing the document.

So please, spread the word and help me graduate.

Weblog ping services

Given the sheer number of weblogs that exist, and more importantly the number of those that could be dead, knowing which weblogs have been updated and when is a critical piece of information. The solution to this problem is a notification service, whereby weblogs alert a system when they’ve been changed. Pioneered by weblogs.com, ping services are the linchpin of every major weblog aggregator.

Nowadays, every weblog author has a number of options to choose from when they setup their blog. The big three are:

There are a number of other ping services for specific communities (e.g. geographic, topical, etc.), but most people decide on the big three. In addition to these choices, the Pingomatic meta-ping service has emerged as a way to easily manage your pinging adventures. Since most of the smaller systems also troll Weblogs.com and Blo.gs, this seems like a suboptimal solution. Why ping 15 individual services when you can ping just one and get the same effect?

As for who receives your ping, Technorati, Bloglines, and Feedster are all closed systems, and pings sent to them are available only to their service. As the weblog economy grows, there will only be more and more competition for each ping, and I assume these companies will protect their data, and for good reason. Any additional updates they get above and beyond the free, open services provide an advantage over other companies. For me, the choice of an open ping system is obvious, but i fear that new webloggers will choose the only name they recognize and many smaller services will lose out at the expense of better-marketed systems.

In the realm of open ping systems, Blo.gs has taken a leap ahead with respect to the efficiency of ping delivery. Most ping services use HTTP as a delivery mechanism, requiring a user to poll a URL to get an XML list of recently updated sites. This is highly inefficent given the nature of the process, namely using a pull technology to push information. Probably due to demand, Blo.gs has moved to a push system whereby blog aggregators can recieve updates as they roll in.

While the future of Blo.gs is unknown, their source code is available, and it has remained a freely available system from the outset. As the author of a blog aggregation system, their efforts have made my life that much easier over the course of the past few years. I sincerely hope that this system, or another open system like it becomes the industry standard for providing update information. Otherwise many of the smaller weblog systems will suffer.

Hiatus

a lonely journeyOnce again overstated has lain dormant while I sought answers to some of life’s most pondered questions: will I ever graduate? If I do, what the hell comes next? How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? Which shaker does the salt go in? Are spheres the only type of bounded three-dimensional space possible that contain no holes?

I tried Google Answers. I tried fasting and I rewatched The Matrix. Without any clear resolve, this existential period has come to a close. Or rather, I’m not so distracted by the rest of my life that I can actually do more with my weblog than just delete comment spam. I’ll be attending the Internet + Society 2004 meeting starting tomorrow, so look forward to some reactionary note taking.

Migrating to del.icio.us

social bookmarksI’ve been keeping a list of low threshold, or daily links here for over a year. My links were largely inspired by Joshua Schachter’s link list (Muxway) which he later turned into the popular del.icio.us social bookmarks engine. I remember trying the system out not long after I started my linkstream, but for some reason the idea didn’t really grab me, and the interface didn’t provide me much more over Movabletype.

Somewhere along the line though, del.icio.us became a much more streamlined means of posting and categorizing links. Moreso it became an independent subculture that really embodies a zero threshold mentality of linking. The system really benefits from people having almost no impetus to adding URLs, and it accomplishes this (quite wisely) by taking away any sort of identity or soapbox that could be used to influence other users of the system (more on that in a post coming up later today). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I wanted to use del.icio.us. So I stopped posting my oddments and I started posting to my del.icio.us account.

Since then I’ve transferred my old links from Movabletype into del.icio.us and integrated my del.icio.us links into my weblog using some very hand Perl tools. More importantly I’ve kept all of the functionality of my old link list, including the ability to give credit to my source through a via link. Here’s how:
Continue reading