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Let's Play Two (or Web Analytics for Fun and Profit)

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Back in October it occurred to me that it had been 5 years since the White Sox beat the Astros to win the World Series. As I result of that realization, I dug into my video collection and quickly put together and posted this video:



To say that this video is the most popular video I've posted on YouTube thus far is an understatement. What's more interesting, for those of us who work the medium of the web, is the traffic statistics of those who have viewed the video in the past 5 months:


konerko_vid_stats.jpegSo what do these stats tell us? Well to some extent it tells us a few things we might have already "known", such as that most baseball fans (or at least White Sox fans) are mature males residing in the United States.

What I find interesting is when people were viewing this little video. Obviously some people viewed it right when I posted it last Oct, during the 2010 World Series. Then, as expected, things go quite for the most part. Then, as Spring Training builds to today's Opening Day, so does the traffic.

But wait, you might be wondering, what about the spike of traffic in December?[1] What could possibly have driven the largest one-time surge in traffic for a handful of days? Perhaps I engaged in a little social marketing? Or maybe the video got popular on a sports site?

Well as it happened it did get posted on a local sports site, but that doesn't completely explain the surge, or why said site was posting a baseball video in December.

Why did it get popular so quickly (and fade so quickly) in December? Because, on December 8, 2010, Paul Konerko, the hero of the video, resigned with the Chicago White Sox for 3 more years.

Interesting, No?




[1] Well if you really are a White Sox fan, you might not be wondering, but don' spoil the ending please?

My Social Graphs

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One of the cheap thrills of social networking is the ability to map out a social graph of one's own friends and family. I recently came across this overview on Mashable of a couple of nice visualization apps and well, I couldn't resist.....

facebook_nexus.pngMy Facebook Network via Nexus, Click Image to View Fullsize.

This first graph is via Nexus. The static image doesn't quite do the complete app justice, since it not just maps out the graph, but labels individuals and provides functions for traversing the network interactively to identify individual and group relationships.

For example, in the case of my social network as managed on Facebook, one of the largest group of individuals, bottom-half-right of the graph, are friends from the Obama campaign. Unsurprising this group is tightly interconnected with relationships between various individuals who all worked together on the campaign.

Related to this group, bottom-half-left, are friends from the Inaugural Committee. Naturally the two groups have many people in common.

The second largest group, upper-half, are friends and family starting with my wife, Katie. Again not too surprising, after nine years of living together, we share a number of friends and family in common. Nor is it as surprising that these relationships are not as tightly integrated as between those who worked on the campaign.

But what is interesting is something we discovered a while back, that besides me, there are a few other individuals that connected our loose group of friends and family with the tight grouping of former campaign staffers.

facebook_friend_wheel.gifMy Facebook Network via Friend Wheel, Click Image to View Fullsize.

Friend Wheel provides the same social graph, but as a radial graph. Nexus can do the same thing, but Friend Wheel can also do the same thing for Twitter:

twitter_twitter.gifMy Twitter Network via Friend Wheel, Click Image to View Fullsize.

Of course with Twitter one doesn't have to approve a relationship for the connection to exist, which helps one reach outside of one's social network. So this isn't so much a graph of shared social connections as it is a graph of shared social interests.

So, unsurprisingly there is some sort of relationship/shared interests between NASA, The White House, the U.S. HSF Committee.

Oddly, there doesn't seem to be any shared connection/interest between "Barack Obama" and Ozzie Guillen, Jr. Go figure!?! And yes, I do have an odd little assortment of people I'm following on Twitter at the moment, thanks for noticing..

Is Information at the Speed of Light Better?

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A couple of weeks ago I started following Dave Winer on Twitter and the discussion about the relevancy of RSS and RSS updates in "real-time" has lead me to ask a simply question that I have yet to see asked: Is all this "real-time" communication even necessary?


What are you talking about, I hear some of you asking? Ok, here's the deal, Dave Winer is one of the developers of RSS. RSS is a file format that allows for the dissemination of web content, usually blogs, to be discoverable and readable by others online. That is not everyone goes to my website, on a daily basis to see if I've posted a new article. Many people use an aggregator that "subscribes" to a "news feed" provided on my site. When a new article posts, it appears in their aggregator at which point it can be read. All of this depends on RSS.


Supposedly, however, RSS is dead. Or at least RSS is dying. Why? Well because it takes time for the propagation of new posts to appear in one's aggregator/reader. Of course time is relative and one has to reconcile the illusion of faster with the actuality of faster, but for some it seems RSS takes too much time compared to status updates. Why should my readers wait for their aggregator when I can tell them right away on Twitter or Facebook?


But wait, RSS isn't dying, rssCloud will save it by speeding up the notification process for RSS feeds


But, wait. Wait, I ask. Why do we need really fast (or the appearance thereof) in the first place? I'm mean think about it, phone calls, emails, status updates, news feeds. All of this is running really fast, probably as close to instantaneous as we many ever be able to get.


And what do we all end up doing? We all end up developing with personal tricks and time management decisions about how to best process all this information. We allot Monday mornings to catching up on Facebook. We flag emails for levels of priority and we filter phone calls based on caller id.


Why? Well because my time, schedule and level of interest is different from yours. That doesn't mean I'm ignoring you, it just means, well, I've got something else on my mind....


Which brings me back to my initial question for us developers and users: Do all of these different types of communication have to be in real-time? Is it necessary?

A Twitter Conversation

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A couple of pieces of news from the last few days has me thinking that Twitter might have reached its apogee. Last week I dugg an article about San Francisco's information center using Twitter to connect with residents, allowing them an alternative method for requesting government information and non-emergency services. At first glance the move sounds intriguing, it required no special setup or additional city funds, yet gives San Francisco and its mayor Gavin Newsom, additional tech creds.

Checking out the city's Twitter feed my second thought was how interesting the information might be to aggregate, in a mashup, or some other form. Providing in a quick glance an easy to read indicator on trends within various neighborhoods, what people are worrying about or have issue with.

Then I thought about using it, and here I realize a larger issue (besides the small fact that I no longer reside in San Francisco). Twitter is about conversations, but it is about many-to-many conversations. In the real world you can think of it as a group conversation at a party, people move in and out of the social group and the conversation ebbs and flows on that dynamic.

Well that's the theory at least. A recent Harvard Business School-based study indicates 90% of Twitter's content is generated by only by 10% of its users. The research team notes that "This implies that Twitter resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network".


From Harvard Business Publishing's Conversation Starter Blog, New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets

So Twitter isn't like a group conversation after all. It is more like a lecture. One person speaking to a collection of individuals, with a few participating in a ongoing question and answer session.

What does this have to do with our city information desk? Well if you have something specific to ask someone you'd probably take that person aside to have a direct conversation, callin on a city representative about a specific issue is a one-to-one conversation.

Unless I'm a community organizer, I don't really care to follow the city's Twitter feed. I have a question, I want an answer. Twitter might be my first place to gather information from other people, but it isn't going to be my first choice when directly engaging the question in search of a specific solution.

Overall this means Twitter and microblogging are useful, but only to a point. Which brings us to the crux of Twitter's problem. Unlike Facebook, where writing status updates is one aspect of the overall experience, microblogging is all Twitter is about.

Which might explain why Twitter's online traffic might have reached a plateau. According to Complete, Twitter's monthly traffic numbers increased only 1.47% from April to May of 2009. While one month's worth of data hardly indicates an overall static growth trend, from March to April Twitter experienced a 32.72% increase in traffic which itself was down from a 76.83% increase between February and March. That sure looks like the beginning of a plateau...


Twitter's Unique Visitors as Calulated by Complete

Share This!

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Not a fan of Digg? Wish you could give visitors more options to share your thoughts without registering with each community run news service? Looking for a simple tool that let's you know what your site visitors are recommending to their friends? Well then I've got the tool for you, ShareThis!

ShareThis is a web widget from Nextumi, Inc. that allows one's content to be instantly 'shareable' with users of various web services with the minimal amount of work by the site owner. As a bonus the ShareThis widget can provide tracking and reporting information such that one can see what site content is being shared.

For zoomshare users this means being able to let users view, vote and/or share your work with other potential visitors without the need to be a user of each individual web service. So if someone thinks your recent blog posting is Digg worthy, they can submit your posting to Digg, right from within your posting, without you having to provide all the necessary Digg links.

Getting Started
The first step to using ShareThis is to register as a publisher. Once registered the next step is to customize your widget, choosing how visitors can share your content and with whom.

Share This Config
Configuring ShareThis

For example, you can allow visitors to share your content only by email. Or you can limit them to just Facebook and MySpace. One can also choose the basic color scheme for the widget in order to better match one's site template.

Once configured one copies the resulting widget code and pastes it into a free form web page or blog post as desired.

<script type="text/javascript" src=http://w.sharethis.com/widget/?tabs=web%2Cemail&charset=utf-8 &style=rotate&publisher=23441421-9d3a-4d4c-8746-a097a0f4b702 &headerbg=%235c5c5c&inactivebg=%237a7a7a&inactivefg=%23FFFFFF &linkfg=%230000FF></script>

ShareThis code for pdw @ zoomshare

Which results in the following button which visitors can click on to reveal the ShareThis Widget:



Nice right? Well it gets even better. As an assist the good folks at Nextumi have also added some basic reporting features. As such you get not only get an idea of who's visiting your site, but what they are sharing with their friends and what service their friends are using.

ShareThis Config
Reviewing Share This Traffic

Check it out and be sure to share this with your friends, I think you'll all enjoy this little tool as much as I do.

Managing Update Notifications

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Ok, so you enjoy knowing when a zoomshare friend updates their site via Message Notifications, but, well let's be honest, you have a lot of friends and if you spend one more day clearing out yet one more inbox your going to scream!

If only there was a way to switch off the default setting and select which friends you wish to receive update notifications from ...

Well now you can! Zoomshare users can now control which friends they receive update notifications from within their Friend List. For each friend a new option titled 'Edit Preferences' has been added to the right-hand side of the friend's screename. To toggle the setting off or on simple click on the 'Edit Preferences' to reveal the 'Receive Update Notifications' checkbox.

Zoomshare Edit Friend Update Notification Preferences
Editing Update Notification Preferences

By default this setting is 'on' so the checkbox will be 'checked'. To toggle the setting 'off' click on the checkbox to uncheck it, then click on 'Save Preference'.

Experienced zoomshare users may notice that the 'Edit Preferences' feature expands the previous 'Add Description' feature in which a user could leave a personal description or note to themselves about each friend. This option still exists under the 'Edit Preferences' feature and behaves in a similar manner as the 'Add Description' feature.

To add a personal note or description about a friend, simply replace the "Add Description" text with one's personal comment and select 'Save Preferences' after first clicking on 'Edit Preferences.

Enjoy!

Heads Up

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sare notes in a recent Forums posting that we have updated the look of the console landing page. The new Dashboard provides a simplified, heads up view of activity on zoomshare.

With the new Dashboard users can better track their friends list, send and receive invites and update their profile and directory information. Of course users can still edit their website or upload photos to their photo album by using the navigation tabs at the very top of the console screen.

How does the new Dashboard help users better track what's going on? Well when a user has a new Message or Invite the Dashboard lets the user know of the new item by highlighting the console as shown in this screen shot:

Moreover, we now send out notifications of certain updates to you when your friends have made changes to their zoomshare sites. Which also makes it easier for users to keep track of what's happening on zoomshare:

What kind up update triggers a notification? If a friend edits a web page, adds a blog post, adds an image to a photo album or adds an item to their shopping cart then a notification will be on its way to you.

When does the notification get sent? Well currently we process our update logs every 24 hours at 3 am Central Time. That means most users will have a notification of a friend's update the following morning. Over the course of the next few weeks will will be adjusting the timing of this process to find the right balance between timely notification and information overload.

In the meantime, enjoy the latest set of updates and let me know what you think

...

Facebook's Broken Beacon of Light?

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Yesterday Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook apologized to Facebook users after the uproar that has resulted from Facebook's latest feature Beacon. The idea behind Beacon is to "help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web." That is Beacon allows Facebook members to share information about their online activity, purchasing a book or posting a product review on a Facebook partner site with others in their social network. Zuckerberk relates that this "simple idea" missed the "right balance" between not "get in people's way ... but also clear enough so people would be able to easily control what they shared." As a result his apology to all notes that changes have been made, including the default behavior of Beacon, which was switched from 'opt-out' to 'opt-in'.

While reading his post, in part because of a prompt from Sare, I realized I've heard this discussion before, its a common view of 'security' vs 'ease-of-use' a lot of programmers have. Well the similarity makes sense, after all personal privacy, the what/where/when/how of sharing, is at its root an issue of security. Hence Zuckerberg's framing of the good/bad/ugly of Beacon version 1, that the two are at diametric opposites; adding security complicates the user experience whereas removing security eases the user experience and that one needs to 'balance' the two at any given time in software development.

The thing is, is I don't really buy that. I mean, yes that might always seem to be the case, but I think that has more to do with the fact that we programmers have painted ourselves into that corner by thinking of the two issues as polar opposites for sometime now. Moreover, I think it becomes an issue of lazy programming since we can say, "it an either/or proposition, pick one and that's what we live with since I can't/don't want to develop something different."


(For a more conventional, not to mention cynical, spin on Facebook's Beacon check out Steven Levy's Do Real Friends Share Ads? article for Newsweek in which Levy suggests that in the rush to maximize Microsoft's $240 million investment Facebook didn't have its user's best interest in mind at all.)

An illustration of my point, a few weeks ago Bruce Schneier posted about a video showing how to circumvent a soda machine. The posting got me thinking about how 'back in the day' it was common knowledge in my high school that one could exploit the dollar bill reader by fooling them with one-sided, black and white, photocopies. If I had to guess, based on the observed behavior, the readers simply cared about being given a piece of paper of a specific length and width that at some point matched the pattern for a One Dollar Bill (some pattern that, I assume, was dissimilar enough to say a Five Dollar Bill). No color matching, matching backside, etc. Today those same readers are more sophisticated, that old 'trick' won't work. Yet the reader's 'user interface' is still the same you orient the bill as pictured, slide the bill in and at some point the reader grabs hold of it, either accepting or rejecting your offering. You, the user, don't have to do anything new, different or complicated, yet the 'security' of the system is greatly enhanced. Sure some readers can seem overly fussy and frustrating, but I've also seen readers that care little about the orientation of the bill, easing use, without, I'm sure, exposing the machine to past vulnerabilities.


The soda machine issue also demonstrates another point about computer security since the 'cracking' of the vending machine is an excellent example of that ultimately it is not about having the programming code in front of you so much as the behaviors, expected and unexpected, that code details that can cause a security issue. In the case of the soda machine video someone discovered how to get the machine to 'fail' and then exploited that to their advantage. In the case of my high school reminiscing it was about literally given the machine what it expected. As Schneier notes this is a simple enough exploit, no source code needed, just a little patience by the observer who determines what behaviors the machine expects by how it reacted.

A few months ago I tried to make the same observation about, ironically enough, a 'security breach' at Facebook when some PHP source code got 'leaked' onto the Internet. It would seem the same can be said for Beacon, its not the code itself that can be an issue but the, in this case, expected behavior that actually becomes a possible security/privacy issue for the user.

The point, if there really is any here, is that on the surface computer security and personal privacy can look cut and dry, good or bad, usability or security, black or white. But, as with those old dollar bill readers, if you ignore the other side, read only in black and white and look only for what your expecting, you can get fooled fairly easy. Oh and that teenagers have a logic all their own since the thought of breaking Federal-counterfeiting law is worth the price of a 'free' soda.

~~~ Stumble It! ~~~ Reddit ~~~ Digg This! ~~~

Location, Location, Location

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Last week Justin Davies, whom I have had the pleasure of working with virtually on a few technical publication projects in the past, wrote up an interesting personal review of the social networking space.

On a whole, I agree with most of his thoughts [1], the main one being at this point in time, just being a social networking site one is not going to make it big. To be of any success one needs to bring meaning into the social network, such as in Justin's example relating to his work on BuddyPing in the UK. With BuddyPing where the person's given location provides context to the importance/mean of the individual's social network.

What's interesting is we here at Zoomshare are working on folding in location as a key part our community. On the money side of things location provides a method to focus marketing and advertising programs, as Justin notes, "we could post an ad to a user whose age and location we know, as well as the time of day." This is nothing new, considering this is the main advantage of web marketing programs; targeting specific content, user types and/or location.

For Zoomshare this also helps bring the community a bit closer together physically. 'Hey, look here's a person not that far from me with the same interest/job/age...' In this example the context of location means Zoomshare becomes something more along the lines of a old-fashion community bulletin board, be it for selling, hooking up, dating, hanging out or whatever.

But Zoomshare is mainly about sharing one's own content; photos, blogs, calendar events, items for sale. The interesting aspect about location context here is what if one can tag their content based on not just what it is about or when it was created/posted but also from where it was posted. Then your photos not only know when the image was taken but also where. Or your blog entry can note where you wrote that story about Paris from. As GPS devices migrate into more and more electronic devices such as camcorders and cell phones this type of 'social sharing' based in context of one's location or past locations is going to grow.

Moreover that's just a couple of extremely powerful and obvious examples of "Context Networks" using Zoomshare's existing tools. Just imagine what other networks can be built using other pieces of information a user is willing to share which can then be used to provide 'context' to one's social network!


[1] If I had to disagree on anything I would nitpick about his naming of Open Social Networks. Justin uses MySpace as an example of a social network that promotes "openness [of one's social network] through the user experience" which is a mean unto itself, "sometimes used for vanity purposes (Look how many friends I have!)" I don't disagree with the assessment of MySpace, but with the name, to me an "Open Social Network" is one in which one's profile and social network are portable, open to other social networks via a well documented (and supported) API.

~~~ Stumble It! ~~~ Reddit ~~~ Digg This! ~~~

Give Me a Ping, Mr. Vasili. One Ping Only, Please.

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Another tool for letting potential readers know about changes or updates to your site, besides Digg or posting to message boards is to use a 'ping' server to get the word out. While some blog and site authoring tools automatically ping one or more servers each time a new post is created, with Zoomshare this is manual process. But no worries the process is not tooo painful.

A 'ping' server creates a list of sites with new material that can be used to keep track of updates on the web. There are a number of 'open-to-the-public' servers, like Weblogs.com and blo.gs. With these sites others can use the aggregated list of site updates for their own as needed. On the other side of things, there are also a number of proprietary ping servers that gather information only for their internal usage.

While one could create a list of the best open and proprietary servers and then go to each individual ping server with a site update notice, I did promise a painless process, so here it is: Ping-o-matic. Ping-o-matic pings multiple ping servers at once (say that 10 times fast). All you need to do is fill-in your site's name and URL and choose which servers to ping. To keep it as simple as possible, just click on the 'Check Common' link and then hit 'Send Pings'.

What's the big deal? As I alluded to, search engines use this information to provide search results on what's new on the web. Feed aggregators use the results from ping servers to tell viewers which items on their subscription lists have recently been updated. All of this means the ping server will help get the word out about your site to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, for as little work as possible.

Ok, now for the most important piece of information here: Don't abuse the system. That is don't go sending pings everyday if you haven't updated your site everyday. Moreover, don't send a ping for each page on your site. One ping for your site, after you've updated your site. Anything more will be considered 'noise' at best and 'abuse' or 'spam' at worst. In other words, your pings will be ignored and you'll have lost out on an important tool.

About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.

   
   


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