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.

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