The Emerging Twitter List Arms Race

I use Twitter a lot, but I was not among the very first to see the new Lists feature. I can now, though. And what I find much more interesting than actually using the feature myself is the fact that I woke up this morning to find that I was on dozens of other people's lists. (In fact, while I was writing this, I turned up on four more!)

Even though the irony is that Twitter introduced lists about a year after I stopped wanting such a feature, I do think there is some value in having other people put me on their lists. Braggadocio. Oh yes, braggadocio. I'm talking about the incredible hubris that comes from knowing I'm on Ezra Butler's list of people he'd take a rubber bullet for, the chutzpah of telling everyone that luminary Tim O'Reilly's list of Government 2.0 people includes me among its few members, and the extra swagger in my step that comes from the radiant energy of being on professor Jay Rosen's list of the best mindcasters he knows. I always knew I was awesome, but now I can prove it.

I'm joking a bit, of course. But when getting retweeted has been boiled down to a science ("Adding 'please' increases retweets by 12.3%!"), every maven is in search of a social media metric that shows who has "authority." Being on someone's Twitter list is a difficult thing to game because it's about organic usefulness to a community. I recently read Gary Vaynerchuk's inspiring book Crush It, and to me, Twitter lists have the potential to be a metric that measures how generous you are to the communities you're a member of.

So forget about counting your number of followers, or how many retweets you get, or the many "Follow Friday" mentions you land - Those metrics have been blown out for a long time now. The new high fidelity for my vanity is the Twitter list.

Participatory Sensing – An Interview with Deborah Estrin

While the iPhone doesn’t ship nearly as much as its humbler brethren - the iPhone opened up many minds about the potential of phones to do a whole lot more than talk. In that regard it is a peek into the future.

The iPhone is a rich portable computer with onboard sensors. Specifically, it is a location-aware (GPS), motion-aware (accelerometer), directionally-aware (digital compass) visually aware (camera being used to scan QA codes or serve as visual input), sonically aware (microphone and speakers), always-connected (wireless or 3Gs) handheld computer. Every operative word in that sentence is deeply meaningful and rich with possibilities we have just begun to explore. The iPhone does a whole lot more than display information. It is an environmental sensor.
Its value lies just as much in sensing information as it does in displaying information.

While the iPhone has the richest set of onboard sensors even basic feature phones are allowing for some remarkable innovation (see my interview with April Allderdice of MicroEnergy Credits) This is an enormous leap forward when our devices are not only connected but context-aware. It is a core theme behind Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle’s “Web Squared” definition that see concepts of Web 2.0 moving into the world.

This concept of “humans as sensors” was the subject of the Web 2.0 Summit panel led by Radar’s Brady Forrest last week. I caught up with panelist Deborah Estrin before to discuss her UCLA group’s work on participatory sensing. Deborah is building multiple applications to express the value of the phone as a sensing device; from large group projects to collect data on an area (such as to personal applications that blend GPS and accelerometer to constantly map your location in time and space then overlay valuable information upon it such as air quality and so on. In the case of air quality - this data might help inform your decisions about where you go jogging or take your baby for that morning stroll.

Navigating the Future: Take Me to Bob

Google has just announced a free turn-by-turn navigation app for Android 2.0 in the US (Radar post). Google Maps Navigation relies on Google's own mapping for routing you. As with many navigation devices you can search Business Listings. However, they are also including data not traditionally available to navigators. In the promo video Google demonstrates that you can ask to be taken to "The King Tut exhibit". GMN will determine that it's in Golden Gate Park and route you. This is "because it is connected to the internet it is using all of the latest information on the internet."

This is huge. To be able to request implicit destinations based off of realtime information is something that has never been available before. What new queries will be available to us because of this? Google has a lot of data. How much of it can be assigned a location? Lots. There are millions of KML files out on the internet. Here are some of the useful queries

"Take me to Bob Smith" - If Bob is your friend on Latitude then Google Maps Navigation can take you to him. If Bob moves then GMN could even re-route you. I wonder if they will enable the chase scenario.

"Drop me off in time for the #48 bus" - Google knows the public transit schedule. So not only can it drop you off at the nearest stop, it could drop you off at the stop that will ensure the shortest multi-modal trip.

"Show me homes under 500K in Capitol Hill" - Via Google Base, Google has real estate information (it has had neighborhood data for quite sometime).

"Take me to my next appointment" - If you use Google Calendar and you accurately fill out the location field then this is a snap.

"Take me to the nearest Winter Coat Sale" - Using Adsense for Google Maps, GMN can easily lead you to local sales.

"Take me to the bar my friends go to the most" - Using Social Graph API and the new, experimental Social Search to tap into Foursquare, GMN can determine where you friends go, aggregate their destinations and lead you to their favorite watering hole.

"Take me to the largest event" - Using a combination of Latitude and its new access to the Twitter Firehose (which will soon include location - Radar post), Google can determine where people are.

"Take me on a tour of the top 10 historical sites here" - Using Wikipedia Google can determine what the sites are and where you should be taken. Alternately, Google could take you on user-generated tour.

"Take me to the most picturesque place near here" - Several years ago Google bought Panoramio, a location-based photo site. Google can determine which place nearby has had the most photos of it taken.

"Take me on a tour of the site from Around the World in 80 Days" - Google already geoparses many of the books it scans (just see this map). This routing is quite possible.

"Take me to the EPA's protected sites" - Government data is becoming more available. This is just one possible governmental query. You could also ask to go on a tour of TARP fund recipients or Democratic donors.

Obviously not all of them will be enabled, but I bet that within a year some of them will be. What other scenarios can or should they implement?

Four short links: 29 October 2009

  1. Julie Learns to Program -- blog from our own Julie Steele as she learns her first programming language. The point is: it’s in me. I wasn’t sure that is was, and now I know—it is. And what, exactly, is “it”? It is the bug. It is the combination of native curiosity and stubbornness that made me play around with the code and take some wild guesses instead of running straight to Google (or choosing to stay within the bounds of the exercise). That might sound like a small thing, but I know it is not. I was determined to make the program do what I wanted it to do, I came up with a few guesses as to how to do that, and I kept trying different things until I succeeded (and then I felt thrilled). As much as I have to learn, I know now that I really am hooked. And that I’ll get there.
  2. underscore.js -- new Javascript library of functional programming primitives (map, each, inject, etc.). (via Simon Willison)
  3. WWW::Mechanize::Firefox -- Perl module to control Firefox, using the same interface as the WWW::Mechanize web robot module. (via straup on Delicious)
  4. Anatomy of SSDs -- teeth-rattlingly technical Linux Magazine article explaining the different types of SSDs (Solid State Disks--imagine a hard drive made of rapid-access Flash memory). Artur Bergman told me that installing an SSD drive in his MacBook Pro gave the greatest performance increase of any computer upgrade he'd performed since he went from no computer to one.

Online Where 2.0: iPhone Sensors for Developers

where online

It's difficult to make it to every conference and yet there are always new developments, technologies and issues during the off times. So we are trying something new. a series of Online Conferences that will happen through out the year. We just had a successful one on eBooks for our Tools of Change conference and now we are launching one for Where 2.0. On December 3rd please join me, Brian Jepson and 5 other speakers as we discuss and explore iPhone sensors at the first ever Online Where 2.0 on December 3rd.

Brian and I will introduce the conference and then turn the microphone over to:
Alasdair Allan, the author of our upcoming Learning iPhone Programming book - The iPhone, like a lot of high-end smart phones these days, comes with a number of sensors: camera, accelerometer, GPS, proximity, magnetometer (digital compass). The first half of this session will cover the parameters and functions for each sensor. The second half will be a live coding of an accelerometer-based app.

Alasdair will be followed by four app developers who will each focus on the sensors they used in their respective apps. They will cover their tools, their process and their mistakes.
Andreas Alfare of Mobilizy - Wikitude (iTunes link) is an augmented reality app that allows you to layer virtual content over a real world view. Andreas will explain how they take advantage of the compass and camera in their app.

Ian Peters-Campbell of Loopt -Loopt is a well-know and very popular location-based social networking app. Ian will discuss their use of the GPS, how they compensate for location flakiness and Mapkit.

Martin Roth of RJDJ - RJDJ (iTunes link) uses microphone to create a soundscape. Martin will cover their use of the audio input and onboard audio processing.

Leon Palm of MagicSolver - SudokuMagic (iTunes link)is a Sudoku app that uses the camera to import paper sudoku boards. Leon will discuss the assumptions, tools, and trade-offs made in their computer vision app.

Each session will be half prepared content and half Q&A time. We will be using to Google Moderator to field questions. The cost is $149 and it will run from 9:00AM -12:45PM PST. All attendees will get 25% off for Where 2.0 2010.

Google's Ed Parsons wonders if the Online Where 2.0 might be the future of conferences. As he says "If you can’t bring the people to a conference, bring the conference to the people…" We're trying something new. Let us know what you think.