Interesting article about pay-per-tweet technology from izea, the company that already leads in pay-per-blog. Seems like an awkward way to fund a social medium, having people pretend to like stuff because they're getting paid to pretend. Of course, we're used to that from our funding for radio and television and publishing and ... Interesting that books, for instance, work on a completely different model, and that most movie revenue still comes from direct pay. What's different about the media we refuse to directly pay for, and the media we are willing to directly pay for? Is it possible to change one into the other?
If the hidden price model is the only choice, we should seek a set of ethical rules for it. Perhaps the adverts could just be clearly marked as being for-pay.
Very fun article about apportioning credit among multiple authors of academic papers. Read the article for the details, but the author's basic argument is that at equilibrium the total value per paper had better be constant with number of authors, or economists will start putting in tons of extra authors on their papers to boost their total credit. (Assuming quality is held constant.)
I see the economic argument. OTOH, it is also true that doing joint work takes more interaction and negotiation (and hence is more difficult) but often seems to me to lead to work that has a bigger impact. Hence, an organization might prefer the joint work even if it is slower per person hour, if they believe the style leads to more impact. (I suppose this is a cheap way of saying I don't think you can really hold quality constant.)
Interesting post on Freakonomics blog about "at least the traffic is down". The really sad thing is that according to the book Traffic, traffic will rebound as people realize that driving isn't as bad as it used to be. Sigh.
This Slashdot post talks about TIGR, the Tactical Ground Reporting System, which the US military developed for groupd troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Developed as much on the
ground in active warzones as in a lab, TIGR lets platoons access the
latest satellite and drone imagery in an easy-to-use map based
interface, as well as recording their experiences in the field and
accessing the reports of other troops."
For more details, see the interview with the developers. Some fascinating quotes, including:
soldiers learn ... the area that they're
assigned. That is they learn the people. They learn the villages. They
learn the roads. And that knowledge that they gain over the course of a
deployment is often times lost. When those soldiers rotate back to the
United States and new soldiers come in and are assigned a territory,
then they come in without all of that knowledge. They used to come in
without all of that knowledge. And that was actually a very, very
dangerous period of time called the turnover of authority. And one
thing TIGR has done is that TIGR has made all of that information
available to the soldiers that are coming in new, as it were, to an
area, so that they're acclimated and have good knowledge of the people
and the places and the roads and things of this sort when they arrive.
you're just really looking for geospatially relevant information for
the mission at hand. If you're going to take this route and you're not
familiar with this route that you're thinking of taking, you can look
and see how many attacks have taken place; what kind of attacks have
taken place; who's been there before. So all of that information is at
What a different application than Cyclopath! (And one that I personally would have qualms about working on, although I don't see this as a simple case of 'working on a military application'.) And yet the motivation for the approach is nearly identical. More evidence for the utility of a geowiki approach!
When I teach user interface design, I always come to a point about 2/3 of the way through the semester where I show the students this picture. It's a picture from circa late 70s or early 80s of someone sitting in front of a Xerox Star. I tell them this was the dawn of the desktop computer / GUI era, and this picture illustrates many of the assumptions that were implicit in this area. Then I ask the students to tell me what they notice about the picture.
Maybe you want to try it before reading any further...
OK, you're back?
The students notice lots of interesting stuff, but a lot of what I want to point out they usually don't notice: it's too obvious to notice, like: the user is an adult, a man, can see, can read, has no motor disabilities, is white, is a white collar worker, which means he's probably educated, is working (not having fun), is alone, etc.
Then I say that all of these assumptions are false for many (or most) human beings and for many (or most) human activities.
Well, at CHI 2009, I was finally convinced that the CHI community has definitively got that. Now, many CHI'ers have gotten this long ago. Maybe it's just me noticing this is true about the field. In any case, there was great stuff about topics like: tabletop devices, social media, and, my favorite, designing in the developing world.
My absolute favorite event in this vein was Jan Chipchase's presentation. Jan Chipchase has the coolest job in the world. He's a researcher for Nokia, and he travels all around the world observing practices related (veeeeeeery broadly) to mobile phone use and coming up with ideas for new Nokia designs and products. By "all around the world", I don't mean North America, Europe, and Japan (although he certainly spends lots of time there). I mean Ghana and Uganda and Afghanistan and Vietnam, among lots of other places. He does contextual inquiry in monsoons, participatory design in shanty towns, and lofi prototyping in villages. His talk consisted of showing a large number of slides and telling stories. It was great. If you're interested in learning more about what he does, check out his web site referenced above. He has lots of interesting blog entries and posts his slides for all or most of his slides.
The CHI 2009 conference was April 4-9 in Boston. I'm not here to give a trip report, not going to do it. I just want to mention one highlight.
I saw the most entertaining CHI event ever (and this was my 16th CHI conference: yikes!). It was a paper + panel session titled "Ethnography Considered Harmful". The featured paper was written by a quartet of British ethnomethodologists: Andrew Crabtree, Tom Rodden, Peter Tolmie, and Graham Button. The presentation of their paper was followed by remarks from Bill Gaver, Wendy Kellogg, Mark Rouncefield, and Tracey Lovejoy.
Now, I'm sure you're thinking "yes, that sounds just fascinating!" But just in case you're not, here's why you should. Crabtree et al. criticized the use of certain methods in HCI and systems design that they chracterized as "newer" or "cultural" approaches, claiming that they simply did not provide useful guidance for design. Now, I haven't read their paper, nor am I very familiar with the approaches they critique. However, as someone who teaches user interface design, including discussing the use of observational methods like ethnography, I think this is a crucial topic. Most of the students I teach are going to go into industry (and, in my program, most will not take another HCI course). Therefore, I want to outfit them with the most useful tools and knowledge of when and how to use these tools.
So, after the four authors had their say, it was the panelists turn. And here's where things took a turn I've never seen before. Three of the four panelists attacked Crabtree et al.'s arguments in a way I've never seen before at CHI... or any other scientific conference I've attended. The attacks were witty, knowledgeable, sarcastic, scathing, and well-performed. The audience responded with a mix of laughter and stunned silence. It was great theater.
OK, great theater, but was it a positive thing? Or was it sound and fury? And hey, you might wonder: do I think the authors or the panelists are right? Let me me tackle all these questions.
Yes, it was sound and fury. Am I shallow for enjoying it? I don't think so, provided that all the participants meant it. As long as they were sincere and not just posturing, I welcome a heated argument. It has made me -- and I'm sure many others -- pay much more attention to this set of issues than we otherwise would have.
Was it positive? Yes, as I already said, I think so. But others certainly disagree. The first speaker from the audience scolded everyone on the stage, said they should be ashamed of themselves, and expressed embarassment that any students and newcomers to CHI should have seen the event. Well.... like I said, as long as the participants were sincere, I don't feel that way. This event certainly was not representative of the CHI ethos (which is friendly and positive to a fault). But I just don't think a heated argument now and then hurts anything. Of course, I admit that I would never have acted the way the panelists did... too polite, I guess. And I'm sure glad I wasn't in the authors' shoes!
Finally, who do I think is right? Well, I don't know yet. I haven't read the "Ethnography Considered Harmful" paper nor the works it critiques. For what it's worth, I thought the panelists made the best showing on stage (they certainly were the superior performers), but my inclination is with the authors. (In any case, I will evalute the merit of these (and other) approaches in terms of their ability to inform design.) Again, what makes me think this was a valuable event is that I will read these papers. And if everyone on the stage that day in Boston had been polite, I probably would not have.
So bravo (and brava) to all of you for sticking your necks out.
It's a sad day for use rights folk, as Amazon caves to the authors' group that had insisted that having a computer "read" their work out loud was a protected use ("copy") that they could prevent. The legal issues here are somewhat murky, since a public performance of a play is preventable (you have to pay the author each time) while just reading the book (what if you move your lips?) is presumably not preventable by the author. However, it's a sad day for creativity when a person who purchases a media item for his or her own use can be prevented with using it by himself or herself in a novel way by the people who created it. This attempt by the authors' group to prevent novel uses -- of the novel! -- is unlikely to create additional value for their members over the long term. (Or the short term: those who have listened to the voice reading books report that that quality is nothing like a real human reader.)For those who like to think about the far-out implications: it's fun to imagine the day in the future when robots can actually read well enough that a feature like this might be useful. Imagine a software reader that is good enough that some people prefer it to a human reading the same text. Or: a program that reads a book and then stages a visual version of it as a "play" for the person who wants to "read" the book. These cases get closer to "performance", and more interesting as tests for copyright law, I think.John
Very nice article at Read/Write Web about eBay and its business model. The theme of the article is that eBay as an auction site is going to continue to face tough competition, which it may or may not overcome ... but that some of the other businesses of eBay are doing extremely well, and seem positioned for the end-game. The author particularly calls out PayPal, which has been solving the problem of doing safe banking on the Internet one country at a time, and Skype, which has been growing 30-40% per year, as great businesses that are undervalued as part of eBay.
The PayPal argument is compelling to me: it's a great business, and being part of eBay creates complicated relationship issues for eBay competitors who otherwise would be great supporters of PayPay.
Skype I'm less convinced about. While I love Skype, and use it regularly, its present business model has two serious problems. First, Skype is bizarre in that it is one of the few communications business to have an inverse Metcalfe's law effect: the more people who use Skype, the less money the company will eventually earn -- because Skype calls are free if both ends use Skype. Of course, this is only a problem at the end-game, which is likely many years away, but it may be a fundamental problem eventually.
Second, Skype is in a business with relatively low barriers to entry. They have the lead in the audio and video encoding right now, and have by far the best interface ... but the telcos should be well-positioned to compete for the business if they decide to tackle VOIP in a big way. It would be scary to be Skype and to face several of the baby bells coming fast for your business.
What do you think? Do you want a chance to buy Skype of PayPal stock, or would you rather they stay safe in the eBay cocoon?
A new MovieLens data set was made available today. Known internally as the 10M100K data set, it contains 10,000,000 movie ratings and 100,000 tags. Previous MovieLens data sets have all contained user ratings data, but this new set is ten times as large as the last. This new release also contains, for the first time, tag data. Tags are small bits of user generated metadata about movies. MovieLens first added tagging features two years ago, in January 2006, and has since grown an active movie-tagging community.Also included in the release is a tool for splitting the ratings data into subsets for cross-validation of prediction algorithms.The read-me file and the data are available for download on the MovieLens Data Sets page.
An article in Information Week discusses a call from the DoD for proposals to create "virtual parents" to talk to the young children of service men and women while they are deployed, and unable to talk in person. Though I enjoyed Diamond Age as much as the next person, this idea seems completely bonkers. Given the limitations on our understanding of AI and child psychology, it seems more likely we'll do real damage than that we'll create a positive experience for the child. This seems to me a great example of the type of research that professionals should just refuse to do.
For the most part I'm a supporter of the view that knowledge for it's own sake is valuable and should be pursued. Further, it's not implausible that eventually we'll be ready to build applications such as the proposed one. However, as Catherine Caldwell-Harris, the thoughtful critic quoted in the article, points out, there are plenty of other directions for researchers interested in this problem to pursue in the short-term, many of which are likely to bring short-term benefits, while moving the science forward. For instance, a researcher might develop a system for teaching a foreign language to a young child. Simulating a parent seems flat-out dangerous, though!
What do you think?