Friday, 29 February 2008

Facebook's Hotel California: ICO helps UK users check out

Social networking website Facebook has been described by many as a "Hotel California", after the famous Eagles' song of the same name ("You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave...") - because, once you joined Facebook, you weren't able to delete your account - you could only "deactivate" your profile (via the "account" link top right, Settings tab, if you want to know). They could hang on to your personal information forever even after you tried to leave them and weren't using their services anymore, it seemed. You couldn't just automatically wipe out, permanently, all the information they held about you. So you'd be unclear about the extent to which they could still continue to make use of your data indefinitely, or for what purposes.

As The Independent recently put it, "They only agree to cancel your account if you manually delete, one by one, every event, message, Mini-Feed entry and so on that's on your profile – and, as regular users will know, that might take several hours."

Not surprisingly, this drew a lot of flak, and last year Channel 4 even quizzed Facebook about their data protection policies and use of retained data, after one of their viewers complained to the UK Information Commissioner's Office about his inability to remove his Facebook account.

As a BBC blog reported, the ICO were to meet with Facebook to discuss the issues in January. And (The Register seems to have beaten me to the punch on this) I'm pleased to report that Facebook have now agreed to change their policies. A spokesperson for the ICO told A Consuming Experience:

"Many people are posting content on social networking sites without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind. It is important that individuals consider this when putting information online. However, it is equally important that websites also take some responsibility. In particular they should ensure that personal information is not retained for longer than necessary especially when the information relates to a person who no longer uses the site.

"Following a complaint about Facebook's retention policy, the ICO contacted Facebook. We discussed a number of changes to their policy which they are currently implementing. Facebook is in the process of notifying with the ICO and continues to work with us to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act. If we receive any further complaints about Facebook or any other social networking site we will consider the appropriate next steps. Organisations can ensure personal information is effectively protected by complying with the principles of the Data Protection Act."

On asking for clarification as to what sorts of changes Facebook are implementing, I was told by an ICO representative that, to accompany the infamous "Deactivate", Facebook has agreed to add the ability for users to completely delete their Facebook account for good, and all their information on Facebook. So - you'll have the choice of either deactivating, or deleting. Result! Let's see how long it will take for this feature to be available (it wasn't when I looked today, see the pic above). And I wonder if Facebook will let non-UK users delete their accounts too, or if they're only doing it in the UK because of the complaint?

If you have concerns about not being allowed to delete your account or erase other personal details from particular websites or web services, or you have any other personal data privacy issues, you can always complain to the ICO - they clearly do listen and take action where appropriate, e.g. they successfully wrought the same change in relation to deleting accounts from eBay, last year.

The eBay complaint, filed by Privacy International in 2006, was widely reported, but its resolution doesn't seem to have been: eBay were very co-operative, within days of the complaint eBay got in touch with Privacy International, and within weeks they showed them how they were going to change their services and practices to permit customer closure and account deletion (within the limits of the law of course). Facebook also changed their position due to Privacy International raising concerns with them.

The ICO are now officially my favourite regulator!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

DataPortability discussion video, London Geek Dinner 27 February 2008

Here's a video of the lively discussion on data portability at the London Geek Dinner of 27 February 2008, the main speakers being DataPortability WorkGroup members Ian Forrester of BBC Backstage and Paul Jones of Faraday Media, the company behind Particls - with lots of views on privacy, data protection, etc as well as technology. The event was organised by Cristiano Betta, thanks Cristiano! (UPDATE: embedded Flash version instead, much better, thanks again Cristiano)

Anyone who wants to can join the public DataPortability Action Groups - just sign up for those Google Groups and add yourself to the list.

Personally I think it's necessary to work on both policy and technology issues at the same time, as they have to inform each other. It's early days yet but lots of people seem to be coming on board, so let's hope the momentum is kept up and that there will be positive, concrete results soon from all this.

For those interested there's a previous video of Ian talking about data portability at BarCampLondon3 in November 2007 (more videos from BarCampLondon3) and this popular short video on dataportability.

For your diaries: the next London Geek Dinner will be on Thursday 13 March 2008, and will feature a speaker from the Participatory Culture Foundation, who will talk about internet TV/video application Miro.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Google beats BBC to no. 1 brand for businesses

In the eyes of British businesses, Google has now beaten the BBC to the number 1 spot as the top B2B (business to business) brand in the UK, according to the 2008 Business Superbrands UK Top 500 business brands league table - compiled by a council of senior business leaders and an independent survey of 1,500 professionals to reveal "brands that have established the finest reputations in their fields and make the most impact on the UK business sector" (Superbrands' 25 February 2008 PDF press release).

Most of the top 500 brands are long-term UK businesses. Media brands (by which Superbrands mean Google and BBC Worldwide as well as the FT and Reuters) are having more impact than traditional commercial sectors like manufacturing. Some brands more traditionally associated with consumers are making an impact on the business sector too, notably eBay which entered the league at no. 43.

The top 10 Business Superbrands for 2008, from the combined results, were:
  1. Google
  2. Microsoft
  3. BP
  4. BBC (Worldwide)
  5. GlaxoSmithKline
  6. Rolls-Royce Group
  7. Financial Times
  8. British Airways
  9. Fedex Express
  10. Hertz
Interestingly, the business professionals surveyed ranked Microsoft 4 and Google 6 while the Business Superbrands Council went for Google, Blackberry, Apple, BBC (Worldwide), The Economist and Nokia as the top 6, with Microsoft as no. 9 (see the end of the press release).

For all 500 top brands, see the full PDF list of the UK's top 500 B2B brands for 2008.

Monday, 25 February 2008

BarCampLondon3: list of videos

For convenience here's a list of the videos I shot at BarCampLondon3 back in November 2007 - well, better late than never!

And yes, there were circling laptops... (No prizes for guessing which one's mine. Review of it to follow, but I really wouldn't recommend buying one because of the unusually bad customer service, in case anyone can read the brand name - which I refuse to give free publicity to further here!)

The list of videos, in no particular order:
  1. The future of BarCamp? - discussion led by Ryan Alexander, Ian Forrester and others
  2. Technology & our rights, aka "You did WHAT with my bits??" - by Glyn Wintle of Open Rights Group
  3. Open social networks & Noserub - by Dirk Olbertz of Noserub
  4. Use Yahoo! Pipes to build your lifestream - by Cristiano Betta
  5. Self-publishing via Lyx & Lulu - by Victoria Lamburn
  6. Data portability - by Ian Forrester (a co-founder of DataPortability)
  7. From Web 2.0 to Mobile 2.0 - the transition - discussion
  8. DIY user research - by Leisa Reichelt
  9. Website psychology - by Gavin Bell who works for Nature
  10. Learning jQuery in 30 minutes - by Simon Willison
  11. Monetizing the long tail - voluntary economies - by Reinier Zwitserloot of
  12. Mobile data - what's "fair use"? - by Sam Machin, who works for a mobile network operator but spoke in a personal capacity.

Friday, 22 February 2008

BarCampLondon3 video: the future of BarCamp?

My final video from BarCampLondon3 in November 2007... a thought-provoking discussion on how the organisation of BarCamps might evolve or develop, to ensure the longevity of the concept in the future.

Led by Ryan Alexander, Ian Forrester and others.

Subprime Primer: funny, spot on credit crunch 101

These "Subprime Primer" slides are a funny, simple, trenchant yet spot-on explanation of what caused the sub-prime housing mortgages problem which precipitated the current credit crunch (and a reminder that moral hazard lurks everywhere).

They've been doing the email rounds of people working in the financial markets, not surprisingly. I know they've nothing to do with technology, but as regular readers are aware I'm a great believer in things technical being explained clearly and simply to non-techies, and this is truly an example par excellence of how it ought to be done.

You don't have to be a financial whiz to understand what's behind the subprime mortgages crisis: these irreverent slides tell the story in a relatively jargon-free way and constitute a superb basic guide to what happened. Swear words warning - the drawings are work safe (no nudity of any kind) but the vulgarity used in places may be offensive to some!

I don't know who produced them - I notice they've been uploaded as a Google slideshow by The Big Picture, but they didn't actually create them. As there are so many copies of these slides around now, I thought it would be OK to put them on Slideshare for ease of sharing - but if whoever owns the copyright in them has an issue with that, please get in touch and I'll remove them. In fact I'd really love to know who wrote them as they're brilliant, but I suspect whoever it is probably wants to stay anonymous for job-preservation purposes! (You can rightclick on the slides to zoom in.)

Funny deliberate misquote

Heard on BBC Radio 4 the other day, this deliberate Biblical misquotation (I still have to suppress fits of laughter when I think about it, blame my silly wicked sense of humour):

It is easier for a rich man to enter a camel than to pass a needle.

(Ouch! Brings tears to the eyes, literally!!)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

BarCampLondon3 video: technology & our rights, aka "You did WHAT with my bits??"

The video below from BarCampLondon3 back in November 2007 is, at its broadest, about technology and your rights, with e.g. a fascinating story (on e-voting) which brings home just how scarily little government and others in power appear to understand technology or the internet, and yet they're making laws affecting our digital rights, they're trying to use technology in ways it shouldn't be used - despite the serious implications for security, privacy and democracy.

The session was led by Glyn Wintle of the (mainly UK) organisation (given my views e.g. my Copyfighter posts, it won't surprise you to know that I'm an ORG member, and indeed I joined when it was first formed).

More on the electronic voting example, where the ORG were e-voting election observers last year. It seemed the SNP had won no seats. On challenging the result, fortunately just before it was officially declared, it was found that votes for the SNP hadn't been counted - probably because the results had been entered onto an Excel spreadsheet, and the person responsible hadn't scrolled across horizontally enough to see all the parties' votes! See page 51-52 of the ORG's May 2007 Election Report (executive summary), which I'm surprised hasn't received more publicity.

Incidentally, on e-voting, it's interesting that as Bob Wyman reported German hacker group, the Chaos Computer Club, in January 2008 went to the courts to try to stop the use of electronic voting machines. They'd previously submitted an expert opinion to the German courts reporting serious defects in the voting computers. Why governments insist on ignoring technology experts, I don't know. Maybe because they don't really understand technology themselves, but won't believe that they don't. Which is where this post began...

Monday, 18 February 2008

Amazon website funny

I'd been craving the sexy silver & blue Bluetooth headset used by the fictional Torchwood team in the first series of that superb BBC TV programme (it's a Doctor Who spinoff, for non-SF fans - BBC Torchwood page - well worth watching, by the way, it's been called an adult version of Dr Who).

The headsets they used aren't fake, they're real. Ian Forrester (who seems to know every gadget there is) identified the headset as being a Bluespoon unit.

So, I got round to investigating Bluespoon. And this is what Amazon's UK website had on the Bluespoon:

Yes, your eyes aren't deceiving you. It has to be a boo boo. The pic is of scissors. Ouch, I say. Try poking that in your ear. Shurely shome mishtake?

Earlier today, the image on the Amazon search results page was correct:

- but the image on the main page showed: a pair of scissors.

Now, Amazon UK are showing scissors for the Bluespoon on both the main page and their search results page. What a great website howler. How I laughed. (Hey, I'm easy to amuse, I need something to keep my funnybones in shape!).

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Urban fox in London, in daylight!

So foxes are bold these days, but to pose for a video, in broad daylight, in a garden in the middle of London?

Why, they're getting as bad as dem Texas possums...

Blogger: how to use a www custom domain for your blog

This post explains how to get to work for your blog when you're using Blogger and want to use your own www domain name for your blog (instead of, and not just the "naked" I know lots of people have had problems with the www part, so I explain the fix.

It includes a step by step on how to change over smoothly to a www custom domain on Blogger, with screen shots for popular domain registrar GoDaddy and your Blogger dashboard.


For bloggers on Google's free Blogger blogging platform, for over a year now since the introduction of the now feature complete fancy New Blogger, formerly known as Blogger Beta, with its widgety goodness and enhanced developer-friendliness, you've been able to blog via Blogger's service and enjoy free webspace on, but use your own domain name for your blog instead of

For example this blog's main URL is now but it used to be (and that web address or URL still works to get you here, and my blog's files are still stored behind the scenes on

This custom domain service is excellent, and for SEO reasons I very strongly advise using it as soon as you can after you start your blog (ideally from its inception), because then:
  • you can build up search engine cred under your own domain name, rather than under ""

  • you won't suffer so much the pain of the sudden big drop in search engine rankings if you've built up decent Google juice under, then switch to a custom domain, and

  • you won't suffer so much through the effort and time and worry that it will take to build up search engine cred all over again under your custom domain name.

I've blogged the benefits and reasons for using your own domain name ASAP, previously - after I suffered myself through a drop in this blog's PageRank and its placing in Google's search results, when I switched this blog's domain from to I'd say it took at least 6 months for my visitor numbers to get back to roughly where they were, though luckily in fact during the last couple of months they're starting to better the old figures. But basically, I've lost 6 months of increasing my rankings. And I'd mention that my AdSense earnings, though they're not anything I can live on, dropped significantly too during those 6 months.

I think using a custom domain is easier than FTP publishing, where you use webspace on your own server (or space you rent from a hosting provider) to host your blog's files instead of Blogspot. (See Blogger Buzz for some advantages of custom domains over FTP).

There are decent Blogger help pages on custom domains. However people had trouble getting the "www" URL to work to take people to their blogs after switching to a custom domain on Blogger. I thought the teething problems had been ironed out by now, to mix a metaphor, but I recently had a comment that suggested otherwise.

So, here's how to switch to a custom domain on Blogger that starts with www (e.g. "").

How to get a www URL for custom domain to work on Blogger

The main thing to note is that technically "" is separate and different from "".

Blogger will only let you use one of them. Most people are used to the "www" URL, so it's best to use that, and then redirect the "sans www" version (, the "naked domain", to the www version.

There are two main things you have to do - set things up on the domain name end (your domain registrar), and then set things up on the Blogger dashboard end.

To do that, the steps to take are these, in this order (to avoid downtime on your blog) - assuming you've already bought your own domain name from a provider:
  1. Go to your domain name provider's site (not Blogger) - i.e. your domain name registrar or domain name hosting service, from whom you bought your domain name.

  2. Login to your account, and set things up so that the www version of the domain name you bought points to (geek speak: on your domain name provider's DNS server create a CNAME record for, and associate the www "alias" or hostname with as the value or destination - see also Google's helpful guide on the domain name system).

  3. Now Blogger has a help page with step by step instructions on how to create CNAME records if your domain name provider is a common one like:
    2. ix web hosting
    3. 1and1
    5. Yahoo!SmallBusiness
    6. No-IP; or
    7. DNS Park;
    8. and even generic instructions for Other hosting services

  4. The most important point to note is that you must create the CNAME record for the www "alias", not for the "naked" domain.

  5. Blogger do provide helpful a step by step (see the links in 3 above), but I always find screenshots more helpful, so here are the steps for my own registrar GoDaddy, pictorially - if you use another registrar hopefully they'll still be of help. The things to click are outlined in red, and obviously you should select your own domain, the one you want for use on Blogger:

    If you've already got a CNAME record for "www" then click to edit it (see the bit outlined in blue below), otherwise click to create a new record (outlined in red).

    Now the next bit is the trickiest bit for non-techies to get, in my view. Note that for the alias box you enter just "www". NOT "", not blank, just "www" (don't worry about the TTL line, no need to change that). Then OK or Save everything:

  6. It'll take a few hours, maybe a day or so, for this to "take". So give it a day or so, then check that "" really does point to To do this, you can do a nameserver check using services like (which is free) - in the box enter "" (obviously changing it to your own real domain name, with the www), click Check Domain, wait a bit, and the results should say that your www points to

    Don't worry that if you try and you get a 404 error. That's because you've not quite finished yet. But it's best to test that the switch to Google on the domain name end has worked, before you go to the next step.

  7. Now you're ready to switch things over on the Blogger side. This Blogger help page shows you how (see the "Blogger Settings" section there) but here are screenshots again. The important thing here to note is that you should enter the "www" part also when you give Blogger your domain name, and of course Save your settings:

    (Google Apps aside. Blogger now provide the option to buy your domain through them. If you do that, I suspect that the "www" should be easier to set up than before, but I've not tried that option so I can't say for sure. That's because you'll get a "Google Apps for your domain" account with it, and in the past people have had problems if they had their domain on Apps then wanted to use the same domain as a custom domain on Blogger because Apps took over the "www" name so if you tried to use it for your blog you'd get a "Blog already hosted at this address" error message. If you already have GAFYD and had that problem, you had to delete that service from Apps in order to use www on Blogger. Or if you had set up the www on Blogger, then tried to use that Google Apps for that domain, Apps would take over the "www" subdomain. But I'm not sure if it still does. Effectively you couldn't have a domain hosted on Apps and use the www for that domain on Blogger at the same time. If anyone knows whether when you buy a domain name via Google from the Blogger dashboard page you can use www for your domain even though you get Apps, or indeed what the situation now is with Apps vs. Blogspot and the www issue generally, please let me know!)

  8. And that should be it! Test the "www" address in your browser and hopefully it should now go to your blog and show your shiny new domain name.

How to forward your naked domain to your new custom domain

It would also be sensible to make sure that your bare domain, e.g., will forward to your new custom domain hosted on Blogger / Blogspot. Again, you do that through your domain registrar, after logging in, via their domain forwarding option.

Here are screenshots showing how it's done with Godaddy, after you've selected the domain to amend:

Make sure you fill in the "Forward to" box with your "www" domain URL, and that "301" is selected rather than "302", then OK and save etc:

(With thanks as always to my Magical Sheep pardner Kirk, without whom I'm sure the www would have gone wrong for me too!)

Saturday, 9 February 2008

BarCampLondon3 video: open social networks & Noserub

This video from BarCampLondon3 in November 2007 is of a talk by Dirk Olbertz of, an open source decentralised social networking protocol.

Have a look at the video below to find out more about Noserub.

There's been a lot of buzz about Google's OpenSocial (which MySpace are participating in), which was announced in November 2007, and about data portability - which all need to be considered together, in my view. It's too early perhaps to say how Noserub will fit into all this.

OpenSocial has certainly been developing apace (e.g. social gadgets) which isn't surprising with Google behind it. For those interested, the Open Social announcement video is below (more OpenSocial videos etc).

Open Social was announced at Google's CampFire One:

Although Open Social lets developers write an application once which can then be used on all supporting social networking sites, so it saves coders and programmers time and increases the potential marketability and adoption of their service, it does depend on sites to support it. That's why I'm much more excited about the possibilities of broader, more general open standards with data portability, which Google, Facebook and Plaxo have recently signed up to in joining the DataPortability workgroup.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Make links in Word, Excel etc open in Firefox (Windows XP)

Links which appear in Office documents, like in the screenshot of Word above, normally open in Internet Explorer when you click them - even after you've set Outlook email links to open in Firefox. But you can force links in Microsoft Office (i.e. Word, Excel and Powerpoint) documents to open in the fab free browser Firefox instead when you click (or Ctrl-click) on a hyperlink that's shown in a Word document or Excel spreadsheet etc.

Here's a tip for how you can make links in a Word etc document open in Firefox when you click the link - in Windows XP at least:
  1. Change your file associations so that hyperlinks generally open in Firefox.

  2. (Non-geeks, skip to item 3 for the easy way!) Make this registry edit having closed all Office apps first (NB, usual warnings: backup your registry first, and you edit or change your registry at your own risk! also don't know if it'll work in Vista):

    1. in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Office\9.0\Common\ create a subkey called Internet if it's not already there

    2. in that subkey create a new DWORD value named ForceShellExecute with a value of 1 (or change its value from 0 to 1 if that value already exists)

  3. If step 2 was gobbledygook to you, not to worry. You can instead - after you backup your registry first, and this is definitely at your own risk! - close all Office programs, then try this .reg file I uploaded earlier (how to use online .reg files - just click the link and run it or save then run it, saying Yes to let to change your registry).

  4. If links still don't open in Firefox after you've re-opened Word etc, try rebooting. And of course you'll need to allow Word, Excel etc to access the internet through your firewall if you haven't already.

It seems that what registry change does is to force hyperlinks in various Office documents to open according to what's been set for their file associations (in Windows Explorer, Tools, Folder Options, File Types). So now you can click links embedded in Word, Excel etc files and they'll in Firefox instead of IE. Good trick, eh?

I've tested it in XP Service Pack 2 and Word, Excel and Powerpoint 2003, but it also seems to work in Word, Excel and Powerpoint 2000 and 2002 versions too.

Warning: note that this doing tweak may muck up any links in Office document to a bookmark location in another locally-saved (i.e. on your computer) document - see this article.

New Google Open Source Blog (& search with other Google dev blogs)

Just noticed that Google started a new blog for coders yesterday: the Google Open Source Blog (with associated Google Open Source Blog feed of course).

It's a spin off from the Google Code blog (which continues to develop apace e.g. with news of the formation of Google Technology User Groups). It's dedicated to, you guessed it, open source software / code and open source developers' projects hosted by Google. There's only one post there so far, but no doubt there'll be more soon.

It's so new it hasn't even been added to the feeds or webpages for combined Google blogs or combined Google developers' blogs yet.

I've added this blog to my custom search engine for all Google English language blogs and search engine for all Google dev blogs.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Shiok restaurant review (London): yum!

"Shiok" is a Singaporean word meaning wooohoooo! or yum! (Imp translation!), and this Singaporean restaurant certainly deserves the name. About 2 years old, Shiok is still one of London's best kept secrets with a host of loyal regulars, its reputation spreading mainly by word of mouth.

Maybe it's not as popular as you'd expect because it's not best located for passing trade. It's in a relatively quiet area about 5 to 10 minutes' walk from the nearest Tube station (Russell Square or Holborn). Open 7 days a week, it's actually quieter at weekends than weekdays, when people from local businesses sensibly nip in for a nice dinner after work, lucky them.

I like my food, especially spicy Far Eastern cuisine, and I've learned to be a halfway decent cook. So my main test when trying a restaurant, particularly Asian, is this: could I cook that dish better? If the answer's uniformly "Yes, by miles", I'm not likely to return.

Quality: So, could I cook better than Shiok's chefs? I do cook one dish better than Shiok, but to be fair I use very fresh organic chicken for it. However, the rest of their dishes that I've tried, I couldn't outdo. In other words, it's worth it - very tasty indeed, and nicely presented.

It's pretty authentic stuff too: Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian (Singaporean food, for those not familiar with it, comprises a mix of influences - mainly Chinese, with a dash of Indian and Malay). Kenny the owner, himself from Singapore, is clearly a genuine food enthusiast who tries to use decent ingredients. Tip: always ask for the dish of the day, and also ask for recommendations to find out what's freshest that day - which could include items not on the menu. Yum, I say again.

Menu & variety: They keep the menu short, preferring to serve a few dishes they are confident they do really well, rather than offering a long list of mediocre dishes. But if you'd like something that's not on the menu, just ask if they can do it - they're very obliging, which is a real rarity in London. For more unusual or difficult dishes they may need a few days' notice, and it's probably not worth it if it's for fewer than 4 people, but again they're unusually accommodating. They're willing to tweak things too - e.g. if you want dish X from their menu, but with fish instead of chicken, they seem happy to do the substitution. I didn't get charged any extra too, the one time I've asked so far.

They also pride themselves on not using any monosodium glutamate, unlike a lot of other restaurants, which is probably a good thing given the health concerns about MSG (and maybe better for your drinks budget too - MSG can make you thirsty!).

Service: The service is excellent. Customers, even newcomers, are treated as valued regulars. It feels more like a hospitable small town eatery than an anonymous London restaurant.

Prices: value for money is also excellent. Shiok charges about the same as other London restaurants which care much less about the quality of their food and service. I'd rather walk a bit further to Shiok and get helpful advice, tasty dishes and friendly service for the same price.

I've not been back to the Acorn House Restaurant (see review) despite its purported eco-friendliness, but I've certainly been back to Shiok and I intend to go there again, lots. MSG-free food that's fairly local and pretty fresh, that's environmentally friendly enough for me!

Cons?: One downside of Shiok - the seating. Some tables have backless cushioned benches on a raised area backing immediately onto a drop, so anyone sitting there might justifiably feel rather precarious, and if in merry alcoholic haze you fall over backwards, you'll go down several feet, not just a couple. They're planning to put up a partition or similar, but for health & safety reasons I really think they should do it ASAP before someone gets hurt and they get sued! Tip: go early to get a table well away from the danger zone, or book in advance and ask for a table away elsewhere.

Verdict: If you like Oriental or Far Eastern / Asian food and you haven't tried Shiok yet, do - I think you'll find it worth the visit.

Shiok Restaurant
75 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4ET
020 7436 9706
Nearest Tubes: Holborn (Piccadilly or Central lines) or Russell Square (Piccadilly line) - Holborn's probably a tad closer.
(No website I could find, so no online menu to check out)

Blogging: evolution or devolution? Twitter takeover? - and some changes to ACE

At a recent Own-It event (which I'd flagged previously), there was an interesting talk on the development of blogging by Dan Hon, CEO of alternate reality games company six to start. Dan was previously involved with Mind Candy (where he helped develop Perplex City) and he originally trained as a lawyer.

The podcast of his presentation will be on Own-It's podcast page in mid March or so, or you can subscribe to their feed (what are feeds?; intro to podcasts). (The other talk, also well worth attending the event for, was on how to stay out of legal trouble in the UK if you post to or run a blog, forum or Web 2.0 site.)

Dan started blogging in around 2000, so he's a grandee in "internet time" terms. He was approached for the MindCandy job because of his blog.

He gave a brief history of the evolution of blogging, blogging tools, and the rise in the popularity of blogging since the introduction of Blogger which made the process of blogging much easier especially for non-techies.

I won't go into that - you can hear it on the podcast.

What I do want to go into is his account of the evolution of blogging, and where blogging is today.

Dan initially began blogging various interesting things about himself, e.g. playing alternative reality games, becoming moderator of the online community that played it. etc. Then he started his training and he couldn't blog about his work, so his blogging slowed down.

Now he mainly just posts Delicious links which are auto-published to his blog. He believes that that is the kind of thing being pushed out to blogs these days, even large team blogs. He feels there's a lot less original content out there now, especially on the commercial blogs like the Gawker Media ones (which includes Lifehacker and Gizmodo), Engadget etc, which cover specific areas.

Dan thinks that generally there's not much professional insight being added these days. Someone might blog that Apple has launched a new laptop, and then 70 or 80 other bloggers will say the same thing, with no real commentary, everyone just pointing to someone else. (One exception - John Gruber a professional blogger who sometimes writes long articles about Apple; his subscribers pay to get his material via feeds rather than just the website.)

Dan believes it's a different discipline to write original content now, so lots of blogs are moving to just posting links, one liners etc.

He thinks you can see it even more with sites like micro-blogging service Twitter, which people are mainly using to get tiny bits of information to their friends in an easy way, in short bursts. Maybe Twitter is diverting the people who would have blogged before...

Certainly Dan himself doesn't really blog substantively anymore, he mostly just posts links.

Also, maybe it's not easy for people who live their lives online to separate out the info they don't want people to know about, so they don't say anything at all? E.g. in Dan's own case, where he can't blog about his work for commercial secrecy reasons.

Of course there's also lack of time, as well as the increasing number of different things people can now do online, besides blogging.

Still, writing about what he was interested in helped him to get a job doing exactly that. Even now, most of the developers he's hired for his startup are people whose blogs he's read, who he's corresponded with, so as an employer he's effectively had the benefit of a 3 year vetting period.

That's all got me thinking. I try to write original material for this blog, and I'm sure that's why Google's PageRank seems to rank ACE quite well in Google's search results - but it certainly takes a very long time to finish one of my detailed howtos.

I've been considering for a while interspersing my long posts with more newsy ones. I've been trying not to be like everyone else, trying not to just link to a bit of news, but waiting till I have time to do a full analysis may just mean I take too long to write something or don't write it at all. I often spot new stuff quickly, but I just don't blog much of it because I don't feel I've much analysis to add, or no time yet to add it.

Well, things will change: from now on I'll include a few posts that just point to recent developments of interest (including some random non-technology posts), without much if any commentary on them. But rather than just talk about another post, I'll still do my best to direct you to the horse's mouth, the primary source, whenever I can.

Please let me know what you think - not just about the type/style of content you'd like to see on ACE (though I'd certainly want to hear from anyone who would stop reading ACE if I switched to "short" newsy posts!), but also your own thoughts on the evolution - or devolution - of blogging, the philosophy of blogging, etc. Do you agree with Dan that blogging has changed? And do you think that's good - or bad?