Visualizations on Valentine’s Day

BayCHI monthly program is always on the second Tuesday. This time the second Tuesday happens to be Valentine’s Day. We are going to have a shorter than usual program and will also have some Valentine’s day goodies (chocolates etc. around).

The tagline is: Bring a date or meet someone new! (For the record, that was not my idea)

We have a great program on one of my favorite topics – Visualization. Jock Mackinley from Tableau Software will give a talk on “Visual Interfaces for databases”.

This will be followed by several short visualization demos: Josh On will demo the TheyRule – one of my favorite visualization engines. Michal Migurski & Eric Rodenbeck from Stamen will demo some of their work: I am hoping it will include Mappr and Vow Delici.

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A social analysis of tagging

(or how tagging transforms the solitary browsing experience into a social one)

In a previous essay, I wrote about the cognitive aspect of tagging – describing how people tag, and why they find it easy. There is another, equally important aspect of tagging that I did not touch upon – the “why” of tagging. Why do people tag? For many, tagging is for sharing their own information and watching others. Even if you tag mostly to remember your own stuff, it is difficult to remain untouched by the presence of others. This article will explore how tagging lets us connect with others.(1)

social analysis of tagging

From solitary to social

Web browsing can be a solitary experience. Computers are individualistic devices. Many afternoons, I sit at my desk in our office, browsing the web, listening to music. I come across an article I want to remember. I tag it. That moment, I go from wandering the web alone to joining a group of others. This transition is important. In a moment, I am transported to a crowd of people with whom I have at least one thing in common. And best of all, I can enjoy their presence, but I don’t need to converse. After being on many mailing lists for many years, let me say, conversation is often overrated. Often, I like to be in the company of others, without needing to follow threads and participate. It is the same reason that I like working in a cafe – enjoying the presence of others without the burden of active interaction. Similarly, tags provide a companionable social hum that I enjoy.
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Digg and the wisdom of the crowds

Gene has an interesting post on “how much wisdom there is in Digg“. He was referring to a recent icident where an O’Reilly author was accused of stealing the Digg CSS. This set set me thinking the social structure created by Digg. If you look at it through the lens of “Wisdom of Crowds“, it does not fulfill the criteria laid out by James Suroweicki. The four conditions are
(1) diversity of opinion
(2) independence of members from one another
(3) decentralization and

(4) a good method for aggregating opinions

Digg fails the “independence of members from one another” criteria. People digg stories and comment with reference to what other members have already done. So, people are highly influenced by what others are doing. Overall, in cases such as this (when emotions are running high – this story was about stealing from Digg itself!), the social structure is more like a mob.

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When recommendations go bad: Walmart & the “Planet of the Apes” fiasco

The recent recommendations fiasco at Walmart (people looking for Planet of the Apes were directed to movies about Martin Luther King Jr.). Expectedly this was found offensive many and was all over the blogosphere. Walmart now says it was due to some mis-cataloging by an employer in 2005. The end result: its not just that recommendation being changed, the whole recommender system is being taken down.

This is not the first time that recommender systems have been in the news for strange recommendations – though in the past its been about about ludicrous rather than offensive recommendations. For example, recall the “My TIVO thinks I am gay” article and Amazon recommending “underwear” to people looking for .NET books.

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No one uses voicemail in India and the concept of missed calls

As you might have read, cell phones are being adopted at an incredible pace in India. My own observation: everyone has a cell phone and is always using it. One thing I realized very soon after getting to India was that no one has voice mail for their cell phone. And people don’t even get the concept of voicemail and its advantages. After vigorously evangelizing voicemail for a few days, I started getting used to not having voicemail, and even appreciating the advantages of not having voicemail.

Gleaned from my various discussions about voicemail, the Indian point of view seems to be:

-You can always send a SMS instead of a voicemail.
-SMS is less intrusive, people can respond if and when they want to. Or not respond.
-When people make a call, they want to talk to you directly – they are looking for synchronous voice communication. Voicemail does not help with that – even a long, chatty message does not. You might as well SMS and set up a time to talk.

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