History as Truthiness

September 15, 2008

The “TrenchFever” blog by occasional blogger Dan Todman is one of those occasional blogs that never fails to make me think about important things. Around this time every year I wonder about my own personal “digital rememberances” of New York 9/11. In a couple of months I’ll remember 11/9 and the Berlin Wall coming down. People are always interested in my recollections of these “historical events” yet I still find it difficult to connect my stories with the broader historical narrative and perspectives – what Dan calls the “dominant discourse”.

Despite my own quite trivial “digital recollections” of “historical moments” – I am a big fan of this sort of grassroots history. However I have to admit that “little” people – even in large numbers don’t really add very much to the overarching “historical” narrative. Even the extra “colour” and “texture” they contribute is often of dubious quality and veracity –  despite that, these personal stories are often very engaging, entertaining and sometimes quite horrific – certainly it seems to be the mawkish details that tend to stick in my memory.

At the other extreme of digital history we have interactive timelines and animated maps.  I love playing with these things but I am afraid that they too fail to add much to the “big picture”. Colourful blocks of pixels sliding around certainly help clarify sequences of events and animated maps present a seductive view of history from “30,000 feet” – but  just like looking out of an Airbus window you actually see little of any real interest.

I recently found myself re-reading “Our Island Story” by H.E.Marshall and was surprised to find the grand sweep of British History quite clearly and amusingly articulated – despite using lots of “fairy-stories” as her primary sources and her desire not to teach “…but only to tell a story”. Maybe this is because her book has defined the “dominant narrative” as it is broadly understood by the ruling classes and referenced by popular culture and journalism? – which reminds me I ought to get to grips with Hyperreality.

(p.s: don’t miss the introduction to Truthiness on Colbert Nation).

Design Police

April 9, 2008

Alert Typo

The desing police have launched a set of stickers that made me laugh.

Participatory Football

November 15, 2007

Ebbsfleet United Home StripOver at New Athenian I was thinking about the news that MyFootballClub‘s 50,000 members have each paid $70 (£35) to particpate in running Ebbsfleet United Football Club.

According to Forbes Manchester United is the most valuable football club in the world with 50 million fans
world wide. Man U had $310m (£155m) income in 2006. This equates to just $6.2/fan/annum (£3.1/fan/annum)… So on this metric participatory-democracy seems to be worth 10x passive-consumerism. Sounds about right to me.

To put this into perspective: If Ebbsfleet United can get one million fans to contribute £35 (-7.50 admin charge) they could just about afford to buy a player like Rio Ferdinand (who Man U bought from Leeds for £29m in 2002).

Antarctica – dividing up the spoils

November 7, 2007

On my way back from Spain yesterday I was reading The Economist about territorial claims on Antarctica:

“Last month Britain said that—in what was just a routine piece of “legal book-keeping”, or so diplomats said—it was preparing a claim to an economic zone off the coast of Antarctica stretching up to 350 nautical miles from the land mass that it already regards as British.”

They included this useful little map:

Antarctic map - Economist

… which got me wondering about which other countries might also lay claim to a slice of Antarctica based on their having un-restricted southern passage across open seas to the continent. Playing around with Pierre Gorissen‘s excellent Latitude and Longitude finder , some basic MS Excel skills shaken up with a bit of Gimp gave me this (click to view full size):

Antarctic pie chart

It turns out that there are 47 countries that might have some sort of claim on Antartica on the basis that they have south facing coastline with direct cross ocean access to the Antarctic. Unexpected results – include the surprising news (to me at least) that Somalia, Yemen and Oman could make claims – as well as Iran who (I suspect) might be tempted to set up an “Icelamic Republic” (sorry I couldn’t resist that one).

(N.B: I didn’t include lots of small islands – like the French islands in the Southern Ocean, the Andaman Islands, Hawaii and the Galapagos).

There is a whole article on Wikipedia about Antarctic territorial claims; which says “[Brazil] … has proposed a theory to delimiting territories using meridians, which would give territories to Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Ecuador too” – it doesn’t mention Senegal, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia or Greenland.  Here is a quote from one of the maps on the Wikipedia page:

Twenty-one of the 28 Antarctic consultative nations have made no claims to Antarctic territory (although Russia and the USA have reserved the right to do so) and they do not recognise the claims of other nations.

You can download the data as a Tab delimited text file which is published under a Creative Commons cc-by-sa license with an GPAC addendum (Give Peace A Chance). This means that if you do use the data I have collected you have to promise not to use it as a justification for war.


October 26, 2007

The last week has seen me up to my ears in wikis… Now I know more about MediaWiki, Socialtext, Confluence, DekiWiki and Near Time than is strictly healthy.

Weblistic moves up a gear

October 20, 2007

Great to see Dick Larkin and the team at Weblistic doing so well. I was particularly taken with this graph on their website:

YP takes a dive

Q+A builds the semantic wiki

October 20, 2007

Markus Krötzsch and the semantic wiki team at the Institute of Applied Informatics and Formal Description Methods at Karlsruhe University have set up an interesting way to capture and enhance the information in Wikipedia.

They have developed some “clever” tools that analyse pages in Wikipedia and are able to formulate a series of questions that are presented to users. For example:



If you don’t know the answer then you simply follow the link to the appropriate page, or Google for it and see if you can find the answer.

It clearly needs to be contextual – better to ask questions about content that a user is engaged in rather than asking random questions – but I am sure that is in the pipeline.

All that is needed is some sort of MTurk system that rewards or recognises activity or (better) some social pressure to contribute an answer whenever you use Wikipedia.

It is being tested here: http://test.ontoworld.org/


October 4, 2007

BT and Fon have done a deal.

Breaking news: http://blog.fon.com/en/archive/general/btfon041007.htm

Facebook wiki

October 2, 2007

I just found a really neat facebook app called Monowiki. It allows anyone with a facebook account to create a wiki.

The only things it really needs is a system for creating categories (i.e. adding tags to pages)… I love it! and I am going to move Batan City over to it ASAP.

Participation inequality

August 6, 2007

At last week’s Wiki Wednesday in London David Terrar started a group discussion about “Participation Inequality” and Jacob Neilsen’s 90-9-1 rule of user participation.

Neilsen observes that:

“All large-scale, multi-user communities and online social networks that rely on users to contribute content or build services share one property: most users don’t participate very much. Often, they simply lurk in the background…

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute)
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs.

Obviously “large-scale” (i.e. public wikis like Wikipedia, Wikia and Yellowikis) have different dynamics and motivations from those found in enterprise wikis but nobody at Wiki Wednesday really knew what levels of participation a business might expect behind a firewall – it also occurred to me that different wiki platforms might well show up different levels of user engagement.

Is this something that Cases2.0 might reveal?