Stupid Web

John Naughton (amongst others) has been critical of Google Buzz. Buzz has been criticised for trying to second guess and provides what John describes as a category mistake”. I have the same feeling about a lot of the tools that fall under the ‘semantic web’ banner at trying to provide some level of cleverness, in this case it’s very basic looking at your contact list and the people you converse with most. I’ve had a similar experience with Amazon.

The problem with Amazon is that it doesn’t store context. The context of some of my purchases (rubber ducks for my niece) is a one off buy that will never be repeated, the horsey books for my partner are repeat purchases but I think Amazon misses a trick because I’d buy a lot more from Amazon if it gave me stuff that’s contextually relevent to me and what I need at the time. That’s difficult to do because I usually go elsewhere for technology purchases but I hardly ever get recommendations for gadgets from Amazon and if I did I would probably be tempted to buy them. Amazon can’t read my mind and the Venn diagram that includes “bath toys for 2 year olds, books about agile programming techniques and horsey books” is quite a small one so the recommendations I receive are Amazons guess at what I will buy based on what I’ve bought in the past.

So what would help ? – Something that tells Amazon about things that interest me most. Something that can explain to Amazon when I’m “browsing” or when I’m actually engaging with something deeply and emotionally. Hmmm…that would be me then.

So that centre of the universe is the individual…or is it ‘collective intelligence’ which is the newest buzz trend (but not a new concept) to try and find out the wisdom of crowds and apply it to web problems. See the problem here is that Americans voted for Bush….and then they did it again. I’m not entirely sure about the wisdom of crowds. The wisdom of peer groups perhaps but I’m not sure that I want to know what ‘the great unwashed’ are twittering about today. I think it’s likely to be a bit dull….and I’ve  looked so I think I know. What are people tweeting about today? “valentines” – what a surprise.

So I still think we’ve got a pretty stupid web. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think the Amazon site gives me interesting suggestions (BTW  I have twice bought a ‘bundle’ under the ‘people that bought this item also bought that too!’)  so it does work. Similarly I do occasionally when I’m bored click on one of the popular hashtags to see whats being said but I would say that I spend more time doing my own research from following ‘known good’ paths than from following paths provided for me.

Perhaps this will change but I hope in a way that people’s own higher order analytical skills remain the primary means of sifting information, otherwise we’ll have a world of people who just believe anything they read and buy anything popular for the sake of it…. iPad anyone?

Oh and while we’re at it what’s going on with Wolfram Alpha …not beta yet? – have people lost interest?

p.s. On the Amazon site I’ve just gone in from my home machine which uses my partners account. Finally now I have recommendations for gadgets that I was looking for all along. All Amazon need to do is send her recommendations to me! Happy Valentines day – 🙂

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Clowning Around?

I’ve hardly blogged at all recently (been on twitter lots) – There’s a debate raging about whether twitter kills blogging. We’ve been having the debate using cloudworks which is our very nice home grown system and I intend to give my opinions of that in another post, but suffice to say I love it.

…anyhow back to my point. By far the most traffic to my blog was generated from my post about Why Clowns are Dangerous. This has in fact also spawned a lot of quite vitriolic and IMHO (!) self opinionated comments, these tend to be light on research and factual evidence but heavily packed with personal insults.

From this I summise:-

1. Michael Wesch is spot on in his analysis about behaviours around anonymity and rage. Particularly people  think they know me from what is a very incomplete set of criteria by which to judge….and for the record my sister runs a circus troupe and regularly dresses in a clown costume. There is a recognised condition around clowns and their fear. Stephen Kings “IT” is directly playing on that association.

2. Clowns are not something to make fun of. Clowns take themselves very seriously.

3. My sister runs a circus troupe (performing arts and trapeze and the works) so there is a clown in my family 🙂

4. The more bizarre the blog post the more traffic it generates. My second most popular post is on silent vacuum cleaners. Therefore ridding the world of scary clowns and noisy vacuum cleaners is likely to make someone very popular.

5. Most people don’t get irony. Or humour. Going back to 1, this is probably to do with the other 55% non verbal communication. Or it could be that people only expect blogs to be ‘either’ comical or serious and not a mixture.

6. People make assumptions. All the time. We forget past things that don’t fit those assumptions and concentrate on the latest things that do. Derren Brown would have a field day. Or am I making assumptions?

What is being human?

I read this article today by James Haugland who was the the “Company Philosopher” for a production of the The Adding Machine. I think it’s interesting that he shares some of my concerns about how people can be diminished by doing everything remotely and via technology.

“Today, technology is everywhere. From microwaves, to cell phones, to your car’s dash board- technological innovations have permeated virtually every aspect of our lives. But where does this path that society has chosen lead? More than eighty years ago, Elmer Rice offered an answer to this question. He predicted the “super-hyper adding machine”, a creation so advanced that it would function with almost no human intervention. Like the latest techno-toys of today, it would attempt to make our lives easier and more efficient. In reality though, inventions such as these only serve to distort and deform the act of living. Take your desktop computer, for example. You can check the weather, pay your taxes, chat with old friends, and basically interact with the world all from the lonely isolation of your empty little room. Like Rice’s “super-machine”, these tools that pretend to broaden our scope only diminish our humanity. They seek to bring the world to us but in effect, they only push the real world of human interaction and understanding even further away.
As theater artists, it is our responsibility to explore human nature; to ask- “what does it mean to be human?” Perhaps society should pause a moment and consider — we cannot create tools to enhance humanity if we do not understand what it means to be human. We insist on racing along toward some undefined destination of bigger, faster, better. Why? To what end? How can we travel so zealously in one direction if we don’t even know where we are now? Technology has unimaginable potential and ultimately, it is the only thing that can ‘save’ humankind from the natural cycles of the universe. But we must be cautious. We must insist that technological development remains consistent with our individual values and our collective goals. Rice’s observations were relevant in the 1920s but they are of paramount importance at the dawn of the 21st century.