Wednesday, May 29, 2013

And we've moved back to blogger

Since Posterous closed its blogging service some time after its acquisition by twitter, future posts will be back posted the old blog.

Oh and yes I did switch to another layout.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blog has moved...

Dear reader,

this blog has moved to a new address. (or just

Should you feel the need to comment on the old blog, it might take me a little longer to reply.

See you on the other site

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Library Of Congress will archive every tweet ever tweeted

[1] Long story short: The company twitter Inc. (twitter) is outsourcing its "backups" to the Library Of Congress (LOC). Apparently this includes all the tweets ever tweeted and also those yet to come.

What is the current situation like with the intellectual rights on the messages you have tweeted? According to their terms of service [2] you still own the rights to your tweet (provided you had them to begin with of course). But you allow twitter to publish them (royalty-free of course) in whatever way they can think of and make them available to who ever they want or sub-licence them. So even if they wanted to print a tweet compendium of all the tweets for the library...they could do it (provided there are enough trees left). At least according to my understanding (no I am no lawyer and no, I am not daring to be one).

The vision statement of the LOC reads: [3]
"We will foster a free and informed society by building, preserving and providing resources for human creativity, wisdom and achievement. We continually strive to place these resources at the fingertips of the American people, their elected representatives and the world for their mutual prosperity, enlightenment and inspiration."

(I especially like the first line of this quote for numerous reasons about which I won't go into detail here.)

In other words: never has it been easier to sneak your works into the LOC as an author. Just try to fill those 140 characters and hit send. Ashton Kutcher got it done, Justin Bieber, Iranian protesters, politicians, Viagra salesmen,... They are all part of the library now. Is all of this necessarily a cultural enrichment to the people of US? I doubt it. But it might be of some value to future historians and the people of Iran among others.

More fascinating to me is the fact that a basic idea behind Web2.0 -that everybody can create content- found its way out into the archives of this world. Not only accredited journalists, publishers and known artists can contribute to the official keeper of cultural heritage of the US... You and me as well (and I am not even American nor living there). That is quite impressive.

Maybe our facebook footsteps will also find their way into the LOC one day...

In any case I will try to keep this in mind next time I tweet or write something like this on facebook.


And we know some tasks take librarians a little longer from time to time ... here's a quote from today's post on the LOC blog:

"Expect to see an emphasis on the scholarly and research implications of the acquisition. I’m no Ph.D., but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data. And I’m certain we’ll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive." [5]

To top it off they could have added " boldly go where no man has gone before"... just kidding, I share the enthusiasm with you guys.

One thing is certain: analyzing and retrieving a message or motive out of 140 characters is a lot more straightforward than trying to do the same with a 400 page book. Not to forget the value of the social connections manifested within those tweets (yes those weird names with an "@" in front of them)



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The change in post-coital communication

Oh wow, times are changing fast. Who would have thought that Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg et. al. left such a big influence on a generation's bedrooms.

arstechnica: checking twitter facebook, the new post-coital cigarette

No judgment and no comments from my side this time ;-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Finding the right words...

It has been some time since my last post. That doesn't mean I have already run out of thinks to talk about.

A simple synonym for communication can be the sharing of information. This can be a one way street as for example in me writing this post or more interactive if actually some one comments on it or reacts in other ways. One way or the other, most facets of life, technology, economy, politics, etc depend on this sharing of information and especially how the receiving party is reacting on this information. And depending on how precisely defined or context heavy this information is, a lot of things can go wrong as well. This is old news to all of us and especially human interaction is full of pitfalls due to the multi-dimensional nature of it.
I do not know of any human language that is not completely context free but we have usually grown pretty sensitive to it and usually try to avoid the worst mistakes. As soon as you take the emotional component of human interaction into consideration and move away from the pure semantics of the verbal communication you step into a new minefield. Sarcasm, irony, feelings are already harder to be modulated and transferred onto a string of words not to mention when words and phrases are used to provoke certain reactions intentionally or intended to divert or misguide you (lies take this to the extreme). Step further to cultural, gender related, social or age related differences that influence how we interpret, how we try to make sense out of the spoken or written word. This again heavily depends on our ability, knowledge and sensitivity to try and understand this other person's intentions.
Being able to see the mimic or gestures of the other person can be helpful. But even they can be subject of misinterpretations. The tone of the other person's voice can be a hint, if available. But all of the above shows that every level of human interaction is quite sensitive to its context and our point of view. I assume we've all gotten into arguments before where both sides meant to say the same or we had the feeling that we haven't said anything wrong but somehow ended up stepping on somebody's toe. We try to adapt to this field of problem by using a rather clear language, free of emotions, when addressing people we don't know well. Take a press release of a bigger company. You don't want to scare your shareholders so you are as clear as possible. Or we pass responsibility to others who are more accustomed to make sense out of spoken or written word. Legions of lawyers, judges and PR consultants make a good living out of this.
Scientists, engineers and other professions share the common reputation of being rather rational and emotionless in the way they share their findings. That is partly since they have tried to overcome the problems of communicating with each other and thus leave misinterpretations to people who don't speak their language. To achieve this they redefined their ways of communication and came up with their own abstractions, algorithms and languages.
Math is seen by many as the pure form of transferring your view of things to your peer(s). Wrap it in a formula which is based on a precise set of rules and there should be no more problems. 2+2 = 4 and 2+n = 4 for n = 2, speed can be defined as distance traveled in relation to the time it takes to do so and so on.

Use a context free grammar to talk to your computer and it should do precisely as you have told it to do (sometime that differs from you wanted it to do, but that is not the problem of the language).
The recipes according to which computers are cooking are called algorithms and given the same set of input and state, one given algorithm shall produce always the same output (wouldn't that be handy for cakes and the alike?). And rather than having a computer try to understand the differences in cultural background, amount of sleep the night before, changes of mood and react accordingly this intermediate language abstractions actually work quite well.
I know there are also people working on making computers understand human language and they have really taken on a big challenge for which alone they deserve my respect.
It is hard to offend somebody by presenting her/him with a formula (except for the Catholic church when the sun was still revolving around us and some current hard core creationists). But since the majority of people prefer to use one or more human languages to order a beer or glass of milk in a bar, show affection or just talk about (any) god and the world one can be assured that we won't run out of funny misunderstandings anytime soon.

While face to face communication has its pitfalls we usually know the consequences of it or can contain problems that might have arisen from our spoken word. We can always try to get the other “on the same page” by adding background information and asking a some control questions.

After this little detour I want to get back into the modern world of communicating. How much background information can I pack into a tweet, dent, text message, …? For the recipient of such messages, how can I trust it, know for sure that I have understood things correctly? For the sender, how can I know what consequences will be triggered by sending a message? In times when everybody can be a news or event generator (who -in theory- can reach half the planet almost instantaneously) and even reputable news wire services like the German dpa fall for a hoax , can I really overlook the consequences of my post? To get a more profound answer to this we have to understand the dynamics, rules and dependencies of complex systems like economy, society, politics or technology. But this shall not be part of today's post...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another Blog, Another First Post (how to fill the white canvas)

Communication is good. It works best if one's information somehow finds its way to a consumer for whom it will be of value. Otherwise it's just noise or spam.

As you can see I am interested in different ways of communication or information exchange. There are lots of borders disappearing in these times and people and information travel easier than ever before, people interact with people they have never seen before and a lot of times never will face in person. Never has it been easier to publish your thoughts and feelings to masses of people or make others see the the world from your point of view. Humans beings communicate with others, face to face, via phone, email, IM, SMS, blogs, microblogging, video chat smoke signs, sign language but also gestures, looks, smells, touches. The distance between people is becoming less and less of an issue and only the time shift between oneself and somebody on another continent reminds you that it isn't the girl or guy next door you are talking to.
But also more and more people are "talking" to machines (more and more without knowing it) and machines "listen" to people talk. I haven't mentioned machines talking to machines yet. Being a tech guy implies my interest in communication where technology is involved.

But beyond the tech details and solutions it's the possibilities that emerge with the technologies. And how normal people (no geeks) start adapting them.

1998 I had my first cell phone and using short messages made sense given the former call plans in Germany. So most of the people I knew back then were rather SMSing each other. That got less and less the more the prices for call plans dropped. But that was a 1 on 1 communication.

When I first heard about Twitter and its 140 letter count limit I wondered about its use. But with the "one to whoever is following you" model it makes sense (tech guys like to call this way of communicating publish / subscribe).
This way you drop an information and hope it will find its way to somebody who can do something meaningful with it. And if it's you posting your current coffee cup count not many people might be interested in it (unless you are a celebrity or the owner of a Starbucks is reading it). But at the very moment, it is one way to get information out of Iran. From one day to the next someone has thousands of "followers". The only thing people know for a fact about this person is, that he is writing about the situation in Iran from his point of view. Nothing else. He does not get to know who is reading it, who is forwarding or otherwise using his information. All he gets to know is out of a sudden a lot of people are "following" him (yeah I think follow is a debatable choice of verb or maybe I am just too German). Anyhow there are more stories where a microblogging service (there is a lot more similar to twitter) was put to good use. Do I have a twitter account. Yes I do. Have I used it much? No (and I am in good company with it). But I do follow and read more and more tweets and dents (yes I am also on

Recently I have read several articles, blogs and other sources about post literacy. I should have bookmarked them and too lazy too manage too many bookmarks in my browser (no I am not on delic.ios or mr wong-....). According to my understanding the term covers being able to use these different means of communication just like "oldfashioned people" use the phone. But more important is the way the post literates retrieve their knowledge and information. How they juggle different channels, sources, media,... to get input. For my parent's generation post literacy started out as being able to use a type writer and later on some office software. They get their news from a newspaper, tv, radio, magazine and maybe use a media portal on-line. If there is a problem at work and no specialist around, look up the yellow pages, browse your phone book or "ask" Google. The post literates rather tab more diverse and distributed sources. You ask your facebook buddy, lookup mailing lists, IM somebody who might know somebody or just send out a tweet and hope somebody can help. Taking care of your social contacts and networks takes some time but it is something you usually do anyways. And these are the tools you have grown up with.

At the moment I find moving information more interesting than resting or stored information. That is partly work related. As mentioned above, machines communicate with humans or "consume" their information. A search engine is a good example. Right now I am writing a blog entry. Once I will post it some search engines will get noticed and start to crawl and analyze what I have written. And if you type something in your search engine of choice and use the right words you might get this given blog presented. Or you put the link to this blog in your news reader. The machine will frequently check on the other machine that hosts my blog It will ask if there is anything new on my blog (hopefully the news reader won't get the same answer all the time with this blog). But this all works kind of backwards. You will get a piece of past and you or the computer has to look things up and see if they have changed. Wouldn't it make more sense that you get a notice whenever something happens like on a mailing list you have subscribed to or on your facebook or when your boss tells you "let me know when you are done with this"?
In the end most of the events in your life, your brain, the world around you work in an asynchone manner.
My and twitter account send new messages to my instant messenger when I want them to. Since I am not following too many people at the moment, this is not very disturbing. A transparent bubble in the top right corner of my screen, popping up and disappearing again. This way I read a message today posted from metajack on about the release of the search engine collecta. (He is one of the creators of this search engine). From my experience new products in the search engine world tend to come in waves. And right now, there is some action in this market. Wolfram Research's Alpha, Microsoft's Bing and others present interesting concepts which rather present a next evolutional step forward from what we are used to on the search engine market. Collecta is a bit different in this regard. It is rather a filter for tweets, blogs, news, pictures. It doesn't look back in an archive and presents you with old news. Collecta rather waits for news that are getting posted while it does the search for you. Once you type in your search terms and run a search you will be presented with a blank page. As soon as somebody posts something related to your search you will get the result. So for example I want to know what's happening with our friends in Iran right now, what keeps them busy. Within 32 seconds I got 93 new messages, tweets and so on. Imagine something like this during an election night, super bowl, hurricane name it. It's not just related to tweets as some other engines. It doesn't look back (in time) and that makes sense to me (and this saves storage and thus money for pragmatic technical reasons). The tech guy in me is wondering how many messages per second run through these firehoses into the machine or if this is some dynamic Publish/Subscribe system. But then again these guys probably don't want to tell us their business secrets. I really like this concept, though I think the gray hats at NSA and their colleagues already have the advanced version of this tool for quite some time (and since I have used the words friends and Iran in one sentence they might as well be reading it ;)
I will keep an eye on collecta in the future and put it to good use. Another tool in the pencil case of a post literate.

Time to digest the day. This time with good oldfashioned face to face talk and a glass of wine on the patio.