Sunday, January 29, 2006

Imagining a Google future

(I'm on a blogging spree today.. don't know why..)

Interesting article on CNN Money with four predictions of Google's future:
1) Google is the media
2) Google is the internet
3) Google is dead
4) Google is God

Fun speculation :o)

On that whole Google China controversy I take issue with both sides of the argument.

It is a shame that there is such censorship in China, however I think people are being unrealistic about how much leverage companies like Google, Yahoo, and MSN have.

These companies basically have two choices: Don't go into China or go into China. If they don't go the Chinese government won't care, they have indigenous alternatives like Baiku. Indeed I read recently that for every American Web 2.0 site there is a Chinese "sister" site doing a similar application. If the companies do go into China, they can only do so with the blessing of the government (as in any other country) and must operate by the laws and regulations imposed by the government.

On the other side, I think it is a bit disingenuous of these companies to say that by being in China they are helping to make information easier to access, or helping improve the internet experience of Chinese consumers. Like I said above there are already local companies doing the same thing. The reason these companies go into China is because there is market pressure on them to enter what will be a huge market (Chinese broadband adoption will pass US broadband by 2008).

If there's one thing the coverage of internet censorship by the big three shows, it's that for all the talk of community generated content, of blogging being a tool of democracy and so on, most information on the internet is controlled at very centralised points. A handful of companies host most of the blogs in the world. A handful of companies are used by people to search the internet. It's very easy to turn off the flow of information should someone powerful enough choose to.

How does Technorati work?

Searching for Dublin International Film Festival on Google Blog Search brings up my blog entry about the forthcoming festival. Searching with the same term on Technorati doesn't include my blog entry in the results.

Does anyone know how Technorati search works?

Ok this is weird.. a second ago it was missing my site.. now when I search again it has it there. What's up with that??

If you want to volunteer..

When I wanted to do some volunteer work a few years ago I found it really hard to find out how to contact the charities I wanted to work for. When I did contact them the response was less than the "Wow, someone wants to volunteer to work for us!! Great! When can you start?" attitude I expected :o)

Irish NGOs are modernising in terms of the way they manage volunteers. There was an interesting article in the Sunday Tribune today about the ways in which volunteers in the 21st century are different from 20th century volunteers and the challenges facing people who make a new year's resolution to volunteer with an organisation.

In the 20th century volunteers were people with a lot of free time who were willing to give their time to do a job without expecting much and without questioning how the job was done. In the 21st century volunteers are time-poor and demand professionalism from the organisations they volunteer for. They are also more interested in what they can get out of the volunteer role and want to do interesting and challenging work, not staffing a charity clothes shop. At least that's according to a study done by a think-tank in the UK for the British Scout Association.

For willing volunteers the volunteering business can be tough too, they can find that charities may already be over-subscribed with volunteering offers or only hire volunteers at particular times of year. Also, sticking with a volunteering commitment is at least as challenging as any other new year's commitment.

Volunteering Ireland is a great site if you want to look at the various volunteering opportunities available within Ireland and abroad.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Happy Chinese New Year!

It's the year of the dog since about five and a half hours ago. At least if you think the Chinese New Year begins at midnight in China. I watched some of the gala event on CCTV over the web but didn't understand a word of it :o)

There was something about picking out names for a couple of pandas too.. I'm not sure what the deal was with that. There was a competition on the website to vote on names for them and if you picked the name which was the most popular then you go into a draw for tickets for the 2008 Olympics. A friend of mine correctly predicted that names (团团 and 圆圆) which were close to the word for "reunification" (团圆 - or is it "reunion"?) would be the most popular, and they were. So now she's in the draw for free Olympics tickets! Guess the Chinese public are keen on bringing Taiwan back into the fold :o)

In previous years there were fairly big Chinese New Year events in Dublin but this year they couldn't get funding so only a few limited events at various venues are on instead. It seems not enough resources from the Chinese community in Ireland were committed to the event in previous years and the council was bearing the organisational burden which is a pity since I can imagine the event would have been even better and more "authentic" if it was organised and run by the community rather than a government department.

I guess the Chinese New Year is more of a family event (as far as my limited knowledge of Chinese New Year goes) so the immigrant community aren't really that interested in going to the trouble of organising stuff to commemorate it?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dublin International Film Festival

Last year's film festival was great, showing many many enjoyable films from around the world. Hopefully this year's will be just as good. The full programme of films is out on Feb 1st.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Davos blogged to bits!

It's that time of year again!

The World Economic Forum is on at Davos. It's a big talking shop for the great and the good to discuss what's going on in the world and what's to be done about it.

It's being blogged a lot this year. Mike Rake, Chairman of KPMG, is blogging for the FT. The forum itself has set up a forum blog where various attendees are uploading articles and podcasts.

As with anything remotely related to world affairs or business these days, India and China will get a lot of focus and press at Davos. The Indians seem to have made a splash this year, at least according to the FT, between opening their retail market to increased FDI the day before Davos and then sending triple the amount of representatives to Davos and hosting a lot of the side events and free drinks. The retail news from India is interesting.. I'm looking forward to seeing what affect it will have had when I visit India next. I'm sure Anand Sridharan will have a very informative article on the potential impact in the next while. He's a great blogger and very much a quality over quantity blogger (unlike me, I'm neither ;o)).

Speaking of podcasts.. they seem to be really taking off.. at least based on the fact that some managers in my office are listening to them now. My Dad even listens to podcasts! I think the convenience of podcasts helps them compared with blogs which you have to sit still to read. I'm not a fan of having to pay attention to what I'm listening to when I'm on the move, I prefer music as a background noise and to be left with my own thoughts rather than trying to absorb someone else's. But most people seem to disagree with me on that viewpoint :o)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why RSS is not email

I only found out today that you can sync up NewsGator and FeedDemon so that you can track the feeds you follow in FeedDemon from other computers (props to Plop@rb for that info!). I googled to find out more and came across some interesting articles on why FeedDemon is great and why aggregating RSS via Outlook sucks.

I'm an agnostic in this debate since I've never used an RSS aggregator other than FeedDemon (great product and great brand, call me a typical consumer but it'll be hard to make me switch :o)). However I do like Steve Makofsky's statement that "RSS is not email". In particular I work very much in line with point 2, I specifically fire up my separate blog reading app when I want to read blogs. That way I have a nice clean distinction between time spent reading blogs and time doing anything else. Also it forces me to go out of my way to read blogs rather than if it was embedded in my browser or email client where I might be tempted to "accidentally" slip into reading a few articles.

I wonder how most people fit RSS reading into their workflow. Do most people read blogs in their personal time, or when work is slack, or do you consider it relevant to your job and justify reading it during the work day?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Blog demographics

Apparently there are millions of blogs out there. We're told by blog evangelists that blogs are the new media. Yet looking at who is consuming this new media is hard to tell.

Take the popular blogs on Technorati, one of the most popular blog search engines. Of the top ten blogs, three would fall into the popular culture category (Boing Boing, Post Secret, and maybe the Chinese language one at number ten which I have no idea about), two are oriented towards people interested in gadgets, and the other five are blogs about American politics.

Iraq war aside, American domestic politics (Alito nomination, Tom De Lay scandal, etc. etc.) gets very little coverage in the "MSM" outside the US. Therefore the fact that five of the top ten most popular blogs on Technorati are about American politics shows that either a vast majority of the blog consumers are Americans keen on politics or that coverage of American domestic politics is something sorely in demand by citizens of other countries left unsatisfied by the sparse coverage in their national print media.

Actually a strict interpretation of Technorati's ranking mechanism means that what this actually means is that when people who write blogs ("bloggers", if you will) link to content on other blogs (let's not forget that Technorati doesn't count traditional sites in it's ranking, except in the separate news ranking which is also American-domestic-news-heavy) a lot of them link to American domestic political news.

Looking at the top 50 sites as a sample reveals some interesting (and perhaps even meaningless) stats:

37 of the 50 are English language
9 of the 50 are Chinese language
3 are Japanese language
1 is Spanish

Of the nine Chinese blogs, all of them are on MSN Spaces.
Of the top 50 blogs, none of the non-Chinese blogs are on MSN Spaces.

Of the 37 English language blogs, 12 are about American domestic politics (and another one, "Igf", is a disturbing blog which seems to be one long rant about the various political situations in the Middle East with a distinctly anti-Arab slant).

The number of sites linking to these blogs falls from ~19 thousand for the number one blog, Boing Boing, to ~five thousand for the number ten blog, to ~three thousand for the number 50 blog, to ~two thousand for the number 100 blog. Is this the "long tail" in action? A handful of extremely popular/interesting blogs and then a few hundred ones of interest to various sub-demographics?

With nine of the top 50 blogs being Chinese, does this indicate the rise of a parallel internet of Chinese language content? One that is unintelligible to most non-Chinese internet users? Also, what does the popularity of MSN Spaces with the most linked Chinese bloggers mean? Are Chinese internet users getting into blogging through msn messenger? (On my own buddy list I'm noticing more and more people start to use MSN Spaces, some for uploading photos, some for blogging as well)
If we were to look at a broader sample of blogs, would we find the trend similar for most people who have started a blog in the last year or two? Certainly the "My MSN Space" button in MSN Messenger is a great way to give people easy access to their blog, and advertising peoples' blogs through their buddy list contact cards helps spread the meme of blogging like a worm through the international MSN Messenger web of buddies.

There are still lots of unanswered questions about the blogging market and medium such as "Why does it matter to anyone other people who advertise on blogs or own a blogging company?" (to which I answer "Touché") and "Who cares about stupid blogs anyway?". These thoughts I've posted here are my off-the-cuff observations late in the evening on having a bored glance through the Technorati popular blogs. Wan an.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The annoyance of getting a taxi from Delhi airport

Sonia Faleiro writes about her experience getting a taxi from Mumbai airport. At first read I could have sworn she was writing about getting a taxi from Delhi airport. It's the exact same experience.

The first-time international traveller to Delhi, unless they have a driver waiting, will nearly always makes the rookie mistake of assuming that they can just walk out the arrivals gate and find a taxi rank. They assume at the taxi rank it will be just like Dublin airport, or Budapest airport, or Mexico City airport where someone is on hand to wave a taxi in and kindly ask you where you want to go and help you put your luggage in the boot and send you on your way with a clean and sober driver.

The reality is there is no taxi rank. If you do pass the money exchange and walk into the arrivals hall, you are landed in India with a couple of men clamouring for your attention asking you "Which hotel?" "Hello, how are you?" "First time in India?" (that last one is Hindi for "Just how gullible are you?"). Their friendliness is merely a sales pitch for a very expensive taxi journey. Don't assume that just because it is expensive you will be driven in a nice car.. you won't. And don't assume because you have told the driver which hotel you are staying in, that you will be brought there. They may decide other hotels pay a better commission and bring you there instead, insisting your hotel is closed or burnt down or was merely a figment of your imagination.

If, on the other hand, you pick up your luggage after getting through immigration and think "Ok, I'll keep my eyes peeled for some sort of tourist information desk or taxi booking desk" you'll spot the taxi booking desk just beyond the customs check. Delhi airport is actually very open plan, you can see the luggage belts from the immigration queue, and can see the arrivals hall from the luggage belts.

At the taxi booking desk you'll find one or two women who make the bookings, and a dozen or so various hangers on and taxi drivers. Once you indicate your desire to book a taxi, one or two of these hangers on (you could call them porters in that they carry your luggage but that really would give you a mental image of someone much neater, tidier, and trustworthy) will take your luggage from you. You won't see your luggage again until it's in the boot of the taxi and the porter is standing there explaining how the exchange rate is 50 rupees to one dollar and therefore since one dollar is such a small amount you should give them one dollar of a tip. There are very poor people in India who live on less than one dollar a day. That should give you some indication of how much of a tip 50 rupees is when you think "How much money would someone poor in need to survive for a day?" and imagine giving that amount to a porter in your own country as a tip.

When you have stated where you want to go and paid the requested amount to one of the women in the taxi booth, she will give you a slip of paper which you are supposed to give to the taxi driver once you reach your destination so that he can prove that he didn't kill you before bringing you to where you wanted to go. Funnily enough, one Delhi airport taxi driver did actually kill an Australian woman about a year ago. He was out of his head on drugs at the time apparently, and the booking system allowed the police to capture him fairly quickly. This goes back to what I said above, you expect a clean and sober driver. Delhi airport taxi drivers are usually neither of these things.

The good news is that there are apparently plans to extend the Delhi metro to the airport. That would be great for both Delhi citizens and local and foreign travellers by taking the monopoly out of the hands of the taxi interests.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

BusinessWeek goes online, Fortune goes free

Following on from my post yesterday, just a quick bit of news: Fortune, Business 2.0, and Money are putting all their content online for FREE.

I said yesterday that there was plenty of good content online for free, now there's even more. I'll still read Fortune in print though, and happily pay money for it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

BusinessWeek abandons its international editions

Rest assured I was on the internet within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world.

Ok so "abandon" is a strong word, what they're doing is moving the international content to their website and stopping printing the international editions. All subscriptions to the international editions will be cancelled and subscribers will be given refunds or given accounts on the businessweek website where they can view the relocated content.

The editorial gives three reasons:
  • BusinessWeek's online readership has "exploded" and "many" of the readers have told BusinessWeek that they read the content online before the printed edition arrives at their doors.

  • The only way to "efficiently reach an expanding class of business reader everywhere and especially in emerging markets" is "with digital delivery".

  • BusinessWeek "can develop a real conversation with you online and accommodate your interests" via blogs, podcasts, yadda yadda...

They are all good reasons so I'll give two main reasons why I'm not sure I'll bother to continue paying money to BusinessWeek if it means that a subscription only gives me access to their content via a computer.

  • I already spend at least eight hours a day in front of a computer, I don't want to spend another four hours or so reading BusinessWeek content. One of the things I like(d) about BusinessWeek offline is being able to relax at home and read it without having to look at a computer screen. Or read it on the bus, or in a cafe, or on a park bench.. You get the idea.

  • There is already a lot of similar online content (e.g. BBC, Om Malik, etc.) which is well written and.. free. I like BusinessWeek's content a lot but I'm not sure I could justify paying €X a month for content which doesn't differentiate itself enough and which I may not read every month due to time constraints (I'm not in front of my computer when I'm in bed or in front of the tv or on the bus.. these are all times when I can read an "offline" edition).

I find the emerging markets point funny because these (BRIC, Poland, Egypt, Turkey, etc.) are countries where widespread internet access is not as easy to come by as in most Western countries. And yet getting rid of the printed international editions of BusinessWeek is supposed to increase their access to business consumers in those countries?

I started out reading BusinessWeek by buying it in airport newsagents as something to read on the plane. I have an interest in international business and current affairs and its content is great, informative and interesting, but I wonder how young business people and business students will find out about BusinessWeek now that it will no longer (I assume? Or will they hawk the American edition in the newsagents of Dublin, Warsaw, and Beijing?) be available on newsagent shelves?

I don't feel sorry for BusinessWeek, they've made their decision and they'll prosper or perish by it. I feel sorry for myself, because I've lost my subscription to what was a great offline read.

Monday, January 02, 2006

"anti-RSS hype"


Scoble wrote yesterday, in a post titled "The anti-RSS hype", that there's an anti-RSS thread going on at Slashdot (which I don't read myself because it looks so ugly and hard to read). The thread was started because Yahoo and Ipsos did a survey which found that only 4% of users are using RSS.

Scoble is pretty dismissive of this and compares anti-RSS heads to the people who failed to predict the rise of the personal compuer and the people who failed to predict the rise of the GUI.

(Incidentally if you don't know what RSS is then here's a definition)

Now while I'm a fan of blogs, I have to disagree with Scoble's anti-hype hype. First of all, were personal computers and GUIs as hyped as blogs are before they broke into the mainstream? I haven't studied much computing history so someone else is going to have to tell me the answer to that, but I can't imagine they were that hyped?

Secondly, Scoble says in his post
In the meantime, you try to read 743 Web sites in a browser.

Who has the time to read 743 web sites at all? Whether using an RSS feed or using a browser? RSS feeds automate collecting the content, but you still have to read it and follow the links and so on. I don't have time to read blogs daily. Scoble himself writes at least five articles every weekday. Not all of us are paid to publish and read blog content all day long.

I think blogs are useful, and RSS as a way of making it easier to track many blogs is a very useful tool. I think it's not something most internet users need though. How many internet users want to go through a large amount of content online on a daily basis? Most users want to read and write emails, chat with friends, and go online for specific tasks such as uploading photos, searching for jobs, searching for quiz answers, etc.

It's too early to dismiss RSS but equally I think it's too early to dismiss the doubters.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year resolution week

I only remembered around midnight last night that I should think up some new year's resolutions. In a hurry I scribbled down some resolutions which I lifted from the "lifer" part of my ongoing To Do list. These are the things you mean to do but require a level of commitment which makes them hard to stick with. On top of that they're goals which you can't just do in one go, they're not discrete actions which you can do in one day or a few hours.

So my New Year's resolutions include improving my Chinese, Hindi, and Spanish. Heh... will I actually act on any of those resolutions? Only time will tell..
There's a host of other langauges I want to learn but have decided to just focus on improving the languages that I have a slight grasp of already, as opposed to ones where I literally only have the cúpla focail (like Russian and Japanese).

In the meantime, I've decided that this coming week will be my "New Year Resolution week" where I reflect on what I want from 2006 and make some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Realistic, Timely) resolutions.

On a slight tangent, I just googled "SMART" to make sure I had the right words and I note that various websites seem to use different words for the 'A' and 'T' but agree on the rest. Wikipedia disagrees with me and other websites on the 'R'. What do other people think SMART stands for?

Wow.. I wonder if my blogging style will ever vary from rambling babble :o)

Can I have FeedBurner style?

I setup my blog on FeedBurner today. FeedBurner acts as sort of a proxy for any RSS feeds to your blog. By sitting in the middle it can log details such as where the visitor came from and what browser/aggregator they are using to view your feed. What can I say, I like stats :o)

Anyway, I looked at my blog as presented at FeedBurner, and I much prefer that style to the style I have on Blogger at the moment! Only thing is it's missing the comments links (it's just a feed and they don't include the comments) so I'll put up with my blog style for now. That FeedBurner style looks a lot easier to read to me though.

Can Mass be made better?

Despite the stereotype I've sometimes encountered abroad, most young Irish people don't go to mass every Sunday. This is for various reasons; some don't believe in God, some like the ol' Sunday morning lie-in, some don't want to participate in the Catholic religion (because they have a different faith or are developing their own personal faith). However I think there are some young people who would go if mass was just.. more interesting.

In asking how can mass be made better, I mean how can it be made more interesting and engaging for people. Not just young people but the congregation as a whole.

There are obvious answers: Hold the premieres of big Hollywood films at mass, replace the priest with a celebrity (can you imagine receiving communion off Scarlett Johansson or Colin Farrell?), replace communion bread with a nice fry. These answers aren't quite in keeping with the tone and intention of mass though. So, within the boundaries of taste and respecting the solemnity of the church, how can mass be made more interesting?

I think (from my own personal experience) one thing that can be improved straight away is the presentation skills of the priest. Maybe the Church should require that all priests get involved in Toastmasters so that they become better at writing engaging and interesting sermons. Sometimes the sermons which priests read out sound very much like rote sermons, discussing the holiness of the particular time of year but without really engaging the congregation or keeping them interested.

The atmosphere in the church is also something which contributes to a mass I think. The larger the audience, the more there's a sort of communal feeling which contributes to the experience that everyone has. For masses where there is a smaller attendance maybe there should be smaller churches or a different format for the mass to reinforce that community feeling.

Any other suggestions on how to make mass more interesting for those that would be attracted to the sprituality but put off by the boring-ness of mass?