Browsing my browsing

I mentioned last week that I’d installed MeeTimer and was using it to track my browsing history. Now I’ve built up a weeks worth of data, it’s time to do something fun with it.

If I want to eliminate, or at least manage, distractions, it will be useful to know not just which sites I spend the most accumulated time visiting (MeeTimer already does a pretty good of showing me this), but also which sites I visit most frequently. Because MeeTimer stores all of its lovely date in an SQLite database it’s easy to get to it and create pretty graphs like this one…

Top 30 visited sites for week of 30th March

Even better, lots of scripting languages have support for SQLite (I’m using Xampp as a convenient stack containing Apache PHP 5 and SQLite 3). After hacking around for a couple of hours, my nasty little PHP script was serving up this sort of thing:

Experiment: Browser DNA

(Larger version)

MeeTimer lets you group URLs into different groups, so here those groups are displayed using different coloured rows. Yellow represents site’s I’ve grouped as ‘work’ (mainly work’s webmail address), so it’s easy to see that when I was working on my laptop at home on Friday, i.e. 2 days ago, I was accessing work webmail pretty constantly. I have a desktop at work, so on most days I don’t need to use webmail to check my email except for on the train on the way in and out, but for some reason I had it open for ages on Monday morning (i.e 6 days ago). Perhaps I was away from desk?

I’m also experimenting with alternative ways of displaying the history, including showing the favicons for certain sites.

Experiment: a brief history of favicons

(Larger version)

Here I’m just showing the visits to about a dozen sites I seem to visit (very) regularly, e.g. Twitter, Gmail, Flickr, Google, Technorati, Feedburner, Google Reader, Delicious, etc. You can see that I habitually check Gmail about once per hour, and visit Twitter even more regularly than that.

The code for the DNA one is a bit specific to my groups, so I want to generalise that to work for all groups before I share it, but I’ve put the code on GitHub for the favicon one. It’ll probably only work in Firefox 2 or better. Canvas should work in Safari, but I’ve probably used Mozilla specific stuff for the text. This was a very quick hack, and there’s plenty of scope for enhancements, so let me know if you make any improvements.

SXSW panel snippets – ‘EA Dead Space: A Deep Media Case Study’

Andrew Green (Online Marketing Manager, Electronic Arts)
Frank Rose (Contributing Editor, Wired Magazine)
Ian Schafer (CEO, Deep Focus)
Chuck Beaver (Senior Producer, Electronic Arts)
Ben Templesmith (Director, Singularity7)

Abstract: This in-depth case-study reveals the method and the madness behind Electronic Arts use of cross platform marketing to communicate separate, self-contained elements of the much anticipated release of their first survival horror game, Dead Space. For this release, EA packaged a comic book, a prequel DVD, and an online experience in order to build, create, and cultivate an audience around the Dead Space brand prior to the official ‘street date’ launch.

  • Rose: We’ve had a century of linear storytelling, now the internet makes a new kind of narrative possible. Not just watch, but participate. Entertainment can be immersive. e.g. Battlestar Gallactica tells its story through TV, online video, multiple blogs, etc. EA has a new strategy, IP cubed, rich storylines that can be extended into other media, not just as spin-offs but as a core way of telling the story. Dead Space was the prototype. It’s an example of Deep Media.
    1. Comic book
    2. Animated feature
    3. No known survivors‘ web experience
    4. The game itself
  • Green: Challenge – how do we build a community and build an audience around 500 years of back story? Content that also works as marketing. Each component should stand on its own. The marketing is the content.
  • Templesmith: 6 episodes make the comic valuable thing in its own right. It wasn’t perceived as pure marketing.
  • Q – Which element was most successful?
    A – (Green) The comic and the animated short. Website was deep and rewarding, but the comics made use of dissemination. easier to port & share content (youtube etc). Much wider viewership by creating value everywhere. Website, as linear narrative, is only going to give you so much benefit. Microsites are always inherently limited because they are a destination. If you have to drive people to a destination, it’s important that its coupled with content that allow it to be shared
  • “The content is the marketing” – someone in the audience thought that was ‘pretty insightful’. [Personally, it makes me concerned for people in marketing who don’t think this way already.]
  • Shafer: in this case, the story was art. In other cases we can listen to the community, understand what they want and be nimble enough to change based on their input.. that will drive success in the long haul.
  • Q – How much resource does each component take? Can you do it without all the components.
    A – (Green) I don’t think you need any budget. You need a community platform with a passionate, creative centre. Give it to the community and allow them to participate and create around it, and maybe even help write it. It’s all about starting. Start building a community.
  • Q – Would you do the website again?
    A – (Green) Yes. From ROI perspective it was high. Also useful to get the analytics, which you wouldn’t get from offsite services.
  • Q – for the website, what were the biggest sources of traffic?
    A – Editorial mentions creating organic traffic. Getting on Kotaku and the link from Wikipedia.
  • Q – Does the website still get traffic?
    A – (Green) Yes. We still get 100-200k visitors from main website. 10k new visitors a week
    A – (Schafer) One fifth of the traffic to site has come after launch of game.
  • Q – How important is having premium downloadable content
    A – it’s become a consumer expectation.
  • Q – How hard is it to break new IP in games industry?
    A – it’s risky. That’s why EA has (up to now) built a career on licensed IP. Budget levels for new games are hard. It’s also a sequel business.

Rose’s thoughts on Dead Space as Deep Media can also be found in this post on his Deep Media blog.

PaperCamp

It’s been a whole week since PaperCamp (a fringe event to Jeremy, Russell and JamesBookCamp) organised by Matt Jones.

Tagged: PaperCamp 09

I drifted between the two events (meaning I missed a couple of things, including Karsten Schmidt talking about fiducial marker generation and machine readable origami markers). I mostly stayed at PaperCamp though, so here’s a handful of what I did catch…

A very good time was had by all. I hear that a PaperCamp is happening in New York in a couple of weeks. Whatever you do, don’t miss it if you’re in NYC on 7th and 8th of February.

Advice on using Wikipedia

Steve recently wrote that the BBC should engage with Wikipedia. I agree.


[photo credit: Steve Bowbrick]

Here’s some advice for anyone at the BBC wanting to get involved, which includes some things to consider if you’re not already familiar with contributing to Wikipedia. Feel free to ignore it if you don’t work for the Beeb, but perhaps it will be interesting and useful to other people too and of course I’m keen to hear what (presumably many) important things I’ve missed.

First of all, it’s worth knowing that the BBC has editorial guidelines about using open access online encyclopedias.

“…When correcting errors about the BBC, we should be transparent about who we are. We should never remove criticism of the BBC. Instead, we should respond to legitimate criticism. We should not remove derogatory or offensive comments but must report them to the relevant administrators for them to take action.

Before editing an online encyclopedia entry about the BBC, or any entry which might be deemed a conflict of interest, BBC staff should consult the house rules of the site concerned and, if necessary, ask permission from the relevant wikieditor. They may also need to seek advice from their line manager.”

Once you’re comfortable with all of that, the next place to look is Wikipedia’s own documentation.

A good places to being in the guide on contributing to Wikipedia, which says that although you do not have to create an account to edit articles on Wikipedia, there are many good reasons for you to do so. See especially the advice on why create an account. BBC employees should be open and transparent about their BBC status (which will be obvious from their IP addresses anyway, like this well publicised example) and the best way of doing this is by creating and using a user account.

More good places to get started include the Five Pillars, avoiding common mistakes and the perfect article (although it’s worth remembering that perfection is not required).

The policies and guidelines are important. Anyone considering editing Wikipedia you take their time in absorbing and understanding all the policies and guidelines. Here are some highlights. What follows it not a complete list, just a taster to get you started.

Policies

Neutral point of view

“All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.”…

Verifiability

“The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth—that is, whether readers are able to check that material added to Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source, not whether we think it is true.”…

No original research

“Wikipedia does not publish original research or original thought. This includes unpublished facts, arguments, speculation, and ideas; and any unpublished analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position. This means that Wikipedia is not the place to publish your own opinions, experiences, or arguments.”…

What Wikipedia is not

“Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information; merely being true or useful does not automatically make something suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia” …

see particularly the policy on news reports

“Wikipedia considers the historical notability of persons and events. News coverage can be useful source material for encyclopedic topics, but not all events warrant an encyclopedia article of their own. Routine news coverage of such things as announcements, sports, and tabloid journalism are not sufficient basis for an article.”…

Guidelines

Conflicts of interest

“Activities regarded by insiders as simply “getting the word out” may appear promotional or propagandistic to the outside world. If you edit articles while involved with organizations that engage in advocacy in that area, you may have a conflict of interest.”…

see particularly How to avoid COI edits and How to handle conflicts of interest

External Links

“Wikipedia’s purpose is not to include a comprehensive list of external links related to each topic. No page should be linked from a Wikipedia article unless its inclusion is justifiable”…

plus What to link, including What should be linked, Links to be considered and Links normally to be avoided

Reliable sources

“Keep in mind that if the information is worth reporting, an independent source is likely to have done so.”…

Notability

“Within Wikipedia, notability is an inclusion criterion based on encyclopedic suitability of a topic for a Wikipedia article. The topic of an article should be notable, or “worthy of notice.” Notability is distinct from “fame,” “importance,” or “popularity,” although these may positively correlate with it.”…

see particularly General notability guideline and Notability of article content

“Keep in mind that an encyclopedia article is a summary of accepted knowledge regarding its subject, not a complete exposition of all possible details”…

You’ll want to be careful to follow Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines to ensure that any proposed edits, new pages or external links are worthy of inclusion, and always be open to correction from Wikipedia’s users and editors.

Toshiba Qosmio G40

I recently received an interesting offer from TalkToshiba; they offered to lend me a laptop on the condition that I write an honest review of it. I get to play with a nice toy for a few weeks, you (and they) get to hear how I got on with it. Sounds fair to me. Let me make that perfectly clear: if the offer had been on the condition that I write a positive review, I’d have said no. The fact that they asked me to “post up your thoughts about the laptop on your blog … whether they be good or bad” and being able to tell the truth about the machine is the only reason I even considered it.

Unpacking it (from a big, heavy box that I’d assumed would be mostly packing material. Oh no, it really is that size) my first reaction was that I had never seen a bigger, heavier laptop. Opening it, I was struck by the distinctive design. Shiny, intricate and odd. Over time, that wore off and I now think of it as odd, and more than a tiny bit irritating. That’s partly because this isn’t the right laptop for me. Commuting every day means I value portability. Don’t expect this to be portable. It truly is a desktop replacement. In fact, you’ll want to plug in a mouse and keyboard too, because the layout is pretty dreadful.

On the plus side, it is quite powerful, has every connection you’d ever need, and the sound quality is amazingly good. When it did sometimes feel sluggish, I blamed the fact it was running Windows Vista. Oh, how I hate Vista. That’s not Toshiba’s fault though, and I should have installed Linux really.

Here’s what it looks like. The speakers vents are huge, and the visual aesthetic here seems to be ‘turbine’.

Speaker (which looks like a turbine)

It’s big. Here it is stacked up against my wife’s MacBook and my MacBook Pro. The two put together are almost exactly the same height as the G40.

Width Comparison

And here it is up against my MacBook Air. Perhaps not a fair comparison, but look at it. Insanity.

Width Comparison

It’s covered in unnecessarily bright and numerous blinkenlighten. Not very soothing on the eyes.

Controls

The biggest problem, especially given the machine’s generous proportions, is having a teensy-tiny trackpad with two teensy tiny buttons, with a fingerprint device right in the middle, just in the way. The design is, frankly, dreadful.

Trackpads, compared

The MacBook Air, despite being a much smaller laptop, makes room for a good-sized trackpad. There’s no excuse for a monster like the Qosmio G40 to have me scratching around on a surface half the size.

Size Comparison

Good points

  • I liked having a fingerprint reader to log in. Probably my favourite thing about it, and the one feature I now miss on my MacBook Pro and Air
  • Having 5 (!) USB ports, and good connectivity generally. HDMI, s-video, SD/Memory Stick etc, even coax TV-antenna, I was almost expecting to see a SCART socket on this thing
  • Good speakers, nice and loud with the best and most sound quality I have ever heard on any laptop
  • Reasonably powerful

Bad points

  • Unnecessarily ugly with lots of wasted space. 17″ inch screen feels small
  • The screen seemed quite dim too. Certainly dimmer than the Pro or Air, even when powered by mains and turned up all the way
  • Dreadful layout: tiny little trackpad with tiny little mouse buttons and a fingerprint reader plonked in the middle of it making it even more uncomfortable to use. I like the fingerprint reader, it’s just in the wrong place. The whole layout somehow manages to feel sprawling and cramped at the same time; I kept pressing the navigation wheel thing on the right when reaching for Return (pressing the soft touch ‘back’ button)
  • No way (that I found) of dimming the enormous numbers of decorative lights
  • HD-DVD. Seriously. I think the battle between BluRay and HD-DVD has been decided, hasn’t it?

It’s doesn’t really matter though because, being over a year old now, Toshiba no longer sells this laptop. The G50 has an even bigger (and I hope brighter) screen, but I don’t think I’ll be buying on. I like my laptops to be something I can put on my lap without fear of injury, and I returned the G40 without being terribly sad to see the back of it. Thanks to TalkToshiba for the loan though.

(More photos on Flickr if you’re interested.)

Tasty Tag Pages

I’ve been improving Watchification and Speechification tonight.

Part of the enjoyment of both sites is the idea that we’re not just curating our favourite stuff, we’re weaving links between it, with those links becoming increasingly fun to explore. Tonight’s hack was a small improvement in order to pull in a few things that the web knows about every tag, but also every presenter, director, editor, and in fact any search term. Here’s what happens when you search Speechification for shows in which Stephen Fry is the presenter.

Speechification - Presenter: Stephen Fry

It works for normal tags too, and they’re handled in the same way. Ever wondered what Speechification has on Malcolm X? or Chris Watson?

I took exactly the same approach at Watchification, though had a bit more room to play with in the layout.

Watchification - Tag: Phil Spector

Other examples: ‘politics’, ‘music’, and shows in which Simon Amstell is the presenter.

As well as the obvious embed of (Creative Commons licensed) photos from Flickr, I used Monitter for the realtime Twitter monitoring, and a delicious.com feed of relevant bookmarks.

I have lots more ideas for other things to usefully enhance the page too. Watch this spaces. Um. These spaces.

Update: at the suggestion of Dan Hil, I’ve moved the widgety stuff to the bottom of the page.

This could be heaven or this could be hell…

Roo Reynolds plays “Hotel California” from Tom Armitage on Vimeo.

Thanks to Tom for capturing this video. That was fun.

ARG Panel at Virtual Worlds London

On Tuesday I’ll be moderating a panel on Alternate Reality Games at the Virtual Worlds London conference.

ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) have become a hot topic in recent months. It’s hard not to think of an ARG as a virtual world in which the interfaces (including websites, email, text message, even telephones) are those we know from everyday life. Is there even more to them than that? Recent franchise tie-ins raise startling questions about business models, while war-stories about user engagement will be of interest to any virtual world designer. Do virtual worlds have anything to learn from ARGs? Find out from a selection of real-life ARG designers, developers and experts.

I’m going to be joined by Dan Hon (Co-founder and CEO, Six to Start [bio]), Kim Plowright (Production Manager, Oil Productions Ltd [bio]) and Fiona ‘Foe’ Romeo (Head of Digital Media, National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory [bio]).

Just some of the questions I’m likely to ask include:

  • Why do people play ARGs? Does there need to be a prize?

  • How do you balance getting someone through the story vs keeping an interesting challenge?
  • How do you maintain a believable universe?
  • How do/can ARGs make money?
  • To what extent can ARGs be user-created?

(I already have many more ideas than we’ll get through during the panel, but if you’d like to suggest topics for conversation or questions then I’m all ears.)

I’m planning to upload slides and notes asap after it’s all over. I don’t have any pre-prepared slides, but will be creating them on the fly in a similar way to the Augmented Reality panel I moderated at LA recently.

See you on Tuesday afternoon? According to the schedule, the ARG panel is 4:45 – 5:45pm on Tuesday. I’ll also be catching some former colleagues hard at work, including Rob‘s panel and Ian‘s talk on Tuesday morning.

Paul Carr on ‘the fringe of web apps’

Here’s something to help you forget your woes during These Troubled Times. No need to risk censure by having fun in the sun, just read Paul Carr writing about his experiences on ‘The Fringe of Web Apps’.

Paul’s (sensible) approach to conferences is ignore the talks, especially the keynotes, and mingle. Here, he gets behind the scenes at FOWA expo in London:

I arrived late to the venue following a silly disagreement with some security guards over the fact that I didn’t actually have a conference pass. Fortunately I de-escalated the situation and gained entry by explaining that I was “on MySpace” and gesturing at the bus. Not “with MySpace”, you’ll note. Just on it. Fortunately the distinction was lost on them.

I’m not actually on MySpace.

I can think of no better candidate for description as Gonzo 2.0. Paul is evocative of what what happen if you stripped Hunter S. Thompson of his guns, dressed him in Converse and dropped him in the 21st Century. Wonderful stuff.

The credit crunch, startups and optimism

Jason Calcanis recently wrote about (The) Startup Depression. As you may know Jason is (still) retired from blogging in order to concentrate on a smaller, closed community via email. He initially wrote the essay as an email to his mailing list, but later opened it up on his otherwise now-dormant blog.

“I promised myself I was retired from blogging to focus on my email newsletter, but I’m getting pounded with so many requests for this essay that I’m giving up and posting it here. This does not mean my retirement from blogging is off, this means I’m posting this so I don’t have to respond to hundreds of emails asking for a copy.”

Clearly, this highlights an important (and obvious) difference between email newsletters and blogs. It seems Jason was taken by surprise by the popularity of the message. It’s a good’un, and well worth a read.

The market will tell you what it wants. You just have to really listen.

Full of advice and tips regarding startups and economic (and clinical) depression.

Since the outside market is out of your control, the best you can do is focus your energy inward. Here are some things you can do after you’ve assessed where you company is at.

  1. Execute better…
  2. Grow the talent you have … Invest in training and education of your top people, because they are the ones who will lead your company through this mess…
  3. Firing the average people… I highly recommend firing anyone who is good or average…
  4. Cut spending every where you can: Recurring costs like connectivity, phones, rent and insurance are things that you can easily cut. Go to each of your providers and ask for 20% relief immediately or you’re leaving…
  5. Find a revenue stream and ride it: If you don’t have a revenue stream right now, you’d better find one on Monday…
  6. Focus on your profitable clients: If you have revenue, start focusing on which clients are most profitable…
  7. Make your top ten 10% better: Look at the top ten aspects of your business and come up with a plan to make each 10% better in the next 30 days…
  8. Hold an optional off-site breakfast meeting on a Sunday and see who shows up: If folks don’t show up for you to grow/save the company on a Sunday for a two hour breakfast, they probably aren’t going to step up when the sh#$%t really hits the fan…
  9. Build marketshare…
  10. Raise money …Build a plan based on revenue and taking market share and folks will consider funding you.

Stowe Boyd responds to Jason:

There is a revolution in the works, and the spark for that often comes from deep despair when dreams are smashed by events. … perhaps now the green fields might not be media, but the actually development of green technologies and web solutions to tie that into our everyday lives. We need to move into a new tomorrow, and innovators and entrepreneurs still have a big role to play.

Fred Wilson also responds to Jason:

“I don’t think we are in a “depression” in startup land. We are in a down cycle driven by a bad global economy. I think the web and information technology is one of the few bright spots in an overall gloomy economic outlook”

Well, a few days later, and Seesmic certainly seem to be going through some tough times. Loic says that he has to let seven employees (1/3 of Seesmic?) go, partly because “advertising is plummeting”.

Gary Vaynerchuk (whose keynote at Web 2.0 Expo NY I really loved) is, as ever, up-beat. In this recent video he covers

ROI. I am talking about Return on the Investment of your advertising dollar. Traditional media advertising is incredibly expensive and doesn’t provide nearly the rate of return you can derive from intelligent web-based marketing campaigns in 2008 and beyond.

In the video, he theorises that print and TV media will struggle, but online marketing, especially adverts in social media websites should pick up business because of return on investment.

Oh go on then, I’ll embed it.

Some quotes:

You think it’s smart to buy this [newspaper] ad, Macy’s? I don’t. I think you get a twitter acount and start interacting with your community. Get 30 interns and you make much more ROI.

[Holding up a full-page magazine ad] Gucci would be far better off going to every watch blog and buying ads there. … The value they get on the backend is so much better, and they can track it. You don’t have to guess what it meant, you can track it.

So. A difficult week. Cause for optimism or pessimism? You decide.

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