Talk at Yahoo research tomorrow: The perils of popularity

I am giving a talk tomorrow at Yahoo Research Labs titled “The perils of popularity“. There has been a lot of excitement about how web-based social systems harness the wisdom of crowds. I want to challenge that notion. I also want to challenge some of Chris Anderson’s assertions about the long tail. Anderson contends that with the democratization of the tools of production and distribution and ability to reach niches with tools like Netflix and Google, the era of hits and manufactured pop is over. I think that the mechanism for creating hits is shifting from studios to the large scale social systems like YouTube and the rules for how content rises to the top. Instead of manufactured pop like N Sync, we have hits from teams like lonelygirl who best understand how to use that medium.

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Following a mashup to its roots: Shift Happens

In following the RSS feed about the SlideShare contest winners, I realized that the winning slideshow is a mashup and started following it to its roots. The winner jbrenman clearly acknowledged that his contest entry is a stylistic rendition of Karl Fisch’s original presentation, so I had always known that. But as is the case with many mashups, I had not spent time tracking the creation to the original. As I started following links, I learnt that Karl Fisch is a teacher who created the original Shift happens powerpoint. Generously, he shared both the original powerpoint file and the mp3 that goes alongwith. In his blog, he also talks about how he came to create the presentation to get the faculty thinking about this new world that their students are entering. (Shift happens is about the paradigm shift in America’s changing role in the world). He also discusses the statistics that he cites in the presentation (acknowledging that his presentation itself is a mashup of ideas and statistics from many sources).

This is fascinating. I could go on stepping back in tracing these ideas. So who is the original creator? Is there an original creator? Is the question even relevant?

Thanks to Karl for sharing. Your presentation rocks (here is a link to his original ppt file). Thanks jbrenman for your stylistic interpretation. Its brilliant (embedded below).

This adds to my belief that powerpoint is the ultimate mashup medium. If you think about it, most presentations are mashups – a collection of facts, opinions and pictures put together under the creative lens of an individual.

Upcoming talk on Office 2.0 and the social life of office documents

On May 8th, I have been invited to give a talk at San Francisco State University by Prof. Sameer Verma. Its a class on Multimedia Business Application Development. For a while I have been wanting to talk about Office 2.0, but never seem to have the time to write the talk itself. On a whim, I decided to write the abstract and send it on. Now, I have no more excuses and have to get the talk ready by May 8th! So, I will be spending the weekend writing and working on the slides. Below is the abstract. References and suggestions about this topic are welcome. And of course, I will post the slides after the talk!

Office 2.0 and the social life of office documents

Traditionally, we have thought of office documents as files that get created, edited and saved to our hard drives. On collaborative projects there might be emailing back and forth. But documents mostly spend their lives on our personal hard drives, within an idiosyncratic mess of folders and subfolders. In this talk Rashmi will examine what Web 2.0 means for office documents with a focus on presentation files. She will discuss how office documents are being liberated from the confines of the hard drive. They can be born in the browser, letting multiple people work on the same document at the same time. Once created, they are no longer confined to our hard drives, but accessible to anyone with a web connection. Documents get linked, tagged and shared on the web. Large scale sharing and social networking around these documents makes the documents useful to more people, and means we can find them when we need them. The social life of documents just got a lot more interesting!

Social mechanisms of the Digg user revolt

People who know me know that I am fascinated by Digg as an example of a flawed but very effective social system. That effectiveness of Digg was evident yesterday as the users revolted against the censoring of some stories on HD-DVD by Digg. Enough has been said about the censoring by Digg, the response by users, so let me focus on the social mechanics of the situation. Digg has always been particularly effective in funneling a lot of user energy into a few stories that drive a lot of traffic and energy. There are a number of ways Digg achieves that.

a) There is only one metric that matters on Digg – the number of Diggs. Contrast that with the many metrics on a site like YouTube or SlideShare (number of views, comments, favorites, embeds, downloads). The primary self-expression on Digg however, is the number of Diggs. That’s what users focus on and that’s what the system responds to.

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